In this Parsha, we witness the birth of Yitzchak, and interestingly, Rashi mentions, similar to last week, that his name, Yitzchak, is derived from the Hebrew word “tzchok,” which means laughter of happiness. But what laughter are we talking about? Well, there are two significant instances of laughter associated with Yitzchak.
First, there’s the laughter of Avram Avinu, which burst forth when Hashem informed him that, at his age and Sarah Imeinu’s age, they would have a son. Filled with joy and gratitude, Avram exclaimed his joyous astonishment that he and Sarah would become parents at their advanced age. This genuine happiness and thankfulness are the first source of the laughter connected to Yitzchak.
The second source of laughter comes from the world itself when Yitzchak was born. It was a time of great joy and mirth, with many previously barren women giving birth, and childless couples finally experiencing parenthood. Yitzchak’s arrival brought an abundance of happiness to the world. This is why Yitzchak is referred to as “tzchok,” So, as we can see, simcha (joy) is closely linked with Yitzchak.
Now, let’s talk about Yitzchak himself. He is often called “Gvurot Yitzchak,” symbolizing the judgments and severe aspects associated with him. In Kabbalah, Yitzchak represents harsh judgment and severity. Despite being blind and confined to a room, he remained devoted to serving Hashem under such severe conditions and challenges. Yitzchak’s life is a testament to the idea of serving God with unwavering commitment amidst hardships.
Yitzchak’s association with judgments is exemplified in the Binding of Yitzchak. According to Kabbalistic insights, Yitzchak’s extreme judgments needed to be restrained. The binding was not only a test for Avraham but also a way to limit Yitzchak’s willingness to go to any length to serve Hashem. While Yitzchak’s extraordinary dedication is commendable, it could inadvertently create an unrealistic standard for others. The binding served to keep Yitzchak’s unwavering commitment in check.
Furthermore, Reb Noson writes in Likutey Halakhot (Hilkhot Matanah #5) that Rivka, Yitzchak’s wife, was the perfect balance to him. While Yitzchak embodied severe judgments, Rivka was the epitome of balance. She could balance Yitzchak’s extreme judgment with her own understanding of kindness and compassion. This is reflected in the story of Yaakov and Esav, where Yitzchak, due to his extreme judgments, was convinced by Esav’s deceptive actions.
In our prayers, we acknowledge this balance between judgment and compassion. For instance, in the Nishmat prayer on Shabbat mornings, we sing the words “Befi Yisharim Titromam, Uv Sivtei Tzadikim Titbarach,” which contain hidden references to Yitzchak and Rivka. This prayer emphasizes that Hashem’s interaction with us is not solely based on judgment but rather a balance of judgment and compassion, represented by Yitzchak and Rivka.
With Yitzchak associated with severity and judgments, you might wonder where the element of Simcha comes into play. The answer lies in Rebbe Nachman’s teaching in Likutey Moharan II lesson 17. The Rebbe explains that true fear of Hashem can be achieved through Simcha. In this lesson, he reveals the key to tapping into the fear of Shabbat by emphasizing that Joy is the pathway to this fear.
Rebbe Nachman highlights that true Yirat Shamayim, fear of Heaven, is born from Simcha!
After Rebbe Nachman shared this lesson, he asked Reb Noson, “Are you happy on Shabbat?” To which Reb Noson responded, “Sometimes I experience what’s known as ‘frumkeit,’ a religious or spiritual awakening on Shabbat.” Rebbe Nachman replied, “That’s not the way. The key is Simcha, joy. It’s through Simcha that we access the profound fear associated with Shabbat.”
Their conversation continued, with Rebbe Nachman reading Reb Noson’s thoughts. The Rebbe then stated, “Now you have something to worry about.” Reb Noson admitted that Rebbe Nachman had indeed understood his inner concerns, as he was wondering how to experience happiness if he wasn’t naturally feeling it. Reb Noson replied: “At least I want to be happy on Shabbat!” Rebbe Nachman turned to those at the table and confirmed Reb Noson’s stance, emphasizing the importance of this desire.
Rebbe Nachman’s profound insight highlights that true Yirat Shamayim, fear of Heaven, is born from Simcha. This concept also offers a valuable lesson in educating children. When teaching children about the Torah and its commandments, it is crucial to emphasize the positive and uplifting aspects first. Share stories of righteous figures like Moshe Rabbeinu, Avraham Avinu, and Yitzchak, showcasing the beauty and goodness in following the path of Hashem. Only after presenting this positive background should you introduce the concept of consequences or punishments for disobedience. This approach instills in children a more enduring and meaningful sense of fear, as they recognize that the Torah is ultimately beneficial, with consequences for straying from it.
In this context, Rebbe Nachman’s teaching becomes clear: true Yirah, fear, emerges through happiness. Yitzchak Avinu is often misunderstood as a figure solely associated with judgments and severity. However, when examining the broader picture with insights from Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, Kabbalah, and Chassidut, Yitzchak reveals a positive aspect. It becomes evident that Yitzchak was not just about strict judgment but also rooted in Simcha, joy. His name, Tzchok, originating from the joy of Avram Avinu and the world at his birth, connects that joy with the fear and severity attributed to him. This balance was necessary, and the Binding of Yitzchak was a pivotal moment in this context.
The verses, “Serve Hashem with Simcha” and “Serve Hashem with fear,” mentioned in Tehillim, highlights this connection. When we approach our devotion with joy, it naturally leads to a profound sense of fear of Heaven.
In conclusion, one must work on cultivating Simcha because, as Rebbe Nachman teaches in Lesson 17 of Part 2, it is the key to achieving true Yirat Shamayim. If you want to develop fear of Heaven, don’t start with self-condemnation and repentance. Instead, build your Simcha, cultivate joy, and as a result, you will naturally arrive at a profound sense of fear of Heaven.
May we all become students of Yitzchak Avinu, where laughter and joy lead us to a genuine fear of Heaven.
This article also appears on the BRI Breslov.org website: https://breslov.org/parshat-vayeira-the-joy-of-yitzchak/
For a video presentation of this class: https://youtu.be/JZFj4JqxGaA