Rabbi Dessler, in his legendary sefer Michtav M’Eliyahu, gives us a very keen insight on parenting from this week’s parsha. There is an idea that the Seven Shepherds–Avraham Avinu, Yitzchak Avinu, Yaakov Avinu, Moshe Rabbenu, Aharon HaKohen, Yosef HaTzaddik and Dovid HaMelech–became the vehicles, as it were, for the various attributes of the guiding power of this world as G-d arranged it. Even if you are not familiar with the layout of the kabbalistic sefiros, you can understand something about these sefiros from the content of the parshios in Bereshis.
For example, Avraham Avinu, though his life, was the chariot of the Divine attribute of Chesed (Lovingkindness); he manifested this attribute through all of his actions. We have a principle from our Sages’, מעשה אבות סימן לבנים, the deeds of the forefathers are signs for the children. We, as the children of these people, must look to Avraham Avinu as the paragon of chesed if we want to learn what it is and how to do it.
Yitzchak Avinu, by contrast, became the vehicle for the attribute of Gevurah (Might, Severity or Restaint) which is also referred to as Din (Judgement). Gevurah seems like the polar opposite of Chesed; Chesed bestows kindness in a limitless way, whereas Gevurah comes to limit that kindness and ensure that it is conferred in a just manner, but this, in turn, actually maximizes the impact of Chesed and insures that its effects are beneficial. Gevurah is also the root of discipline, self-restraint and self-transcendence, which are key tools of the pathway towards holiness. Gevurah is what is required to suppress and fight against one’s yetzer hara (evil urge), as we find in the Mishna, “Who is considered mighty (gibor)? One who conquers his evil urge.” These were the character traits of Yitzchak Avinu.
One can ask the question, why did Yitzchak Avinu decide that his life’s work would be in an area that was distinct from that of his father? After all, Avraham Avinu was the greatest tzaddik of his time; it might have been more logical to emulate him and continue in his path of building Chesed in the world.
Here, Rabbi Dessler brings a thought from the Alter of Kelm, Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv zt”l. In the Midrash we find that, when Yitzchak Avinu and Rivka Imenu involved themselves in intense prayer to facilitate Rivka’s ability to conceive (after years of barrenness), G-d granted them this desire, but only in the merit of the prayer of Yitzchak Avinu. Chazal explain that this is because the prayer of a righteous person born of a righteous father is greater than the prayer of a righteous person born of a wicked father. What, in this case, made Yitzchak Avinu’s prayer greater than Rivka Imenu’s prayer? Lineage alone?
Rather, what gave Yitzchak Avinu’s prayer its particular effectiveness was that it came as a result of a dimension of spiritual accomplishment that Yitzchak Avinu possessed. Having been born to the greatest tzaddikim in the world–Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imenu–Yitzchak Avinu could have fallen back upon his education, upbringing and good habits that had been reinforced throughout his formative years to coast through a holy life as if on autopilot. Instead, he built upon these endowments in a very unique way, by transcending them and striking out on his own, serving G-d by opening the gates of Gevurah in this world. This was a unique path that Yitzchak Avinu had cleared himself, as it were. This is much harder to do, explain Chazal, than to leave an evil, idolatrous family for a life of holiness, as Rivka Imenu did.
I think that what we can learn from this perspective, as I have said before, is that we have to empower our children to use the gifts we give them to be the choosers, the architects of their own holy destinies as people.
In parshas Lech Lecha, we see that, at the end of the wars of the kings, which Avraham Avinu’s forces had successfully brought to an end, Malkitzedek, the king of Shalem, brought out bread and wine to commemorate the war’s end. Bread and wine, in order to be the best that they can be, need to adhere to certain criteria. Bread must be new and fresh, whereas wine must be aged. This also applies to the making of a person; we as parents must give our children a mesorah, a tradition of Torah that is as aged as Creation itself, and has stood the test of time. Simultaneously, we need to teach our beneficiaries to live this mesorah in a way that is as fresh and new as bread.