Q&A with Rabbi Israel Chait
Written by a student—12/11/19
Question: “And Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife because she was barren; and the Lord responded to him, and his wife Rebecca conceived” (Gen. 25:21).
“The Lord responded to him and not to her, because there is no comparison between the prayer of a righteous person who is the son of a righteous person (Isaac) and the prayer of a righteous person the child of a wicked-person (Rebecca). Therefore God allowed Himself to be entreated of him and not of her (Yevamos 64a).”
Question: Does the righteousness or corruption of our ancestors (something we can't control) affect our standing with Hashem?
Rabbi Israel Chait: A righteous person whose father is righteous can fulfill his full potential, whereas one whose father is wicked, cannot. This does not discount the great reward one receives whose origins were wicked and battled negative influences to become righteous. However, the righteous person whose father is righteous benefited from the greatest influence throughout his life. All things being equal, the righteous person whose father is righteous will be a greater person. Similarly, King Solomon says in the beginning of his book Koheles that he was “son of David.” He intended to convey that the reader should pay heed to his words because both he and his father were great intellects, and such lineage secures greater teachers.
Isaac was the second in the chain of the Mesora (transmission); a capacity of the greatest importance. In this vital role of molding Jacob who would be the third in this chain of the patriarchs, to create Jacob’s full potential, it was vital that Isaac play the primary role. Thus, his prayer—and not Rebecca’s—was answered.
The role of the Baalei Mesora—transmitters of the Torah—namely the patriarchs, was an infinite mission [all possibilities to cultivate the greatest good for the nation lie ahead]. To bring about the greatest potential in Jacob, a righteous person (Isaac) whose father was righteous, was vital; infinite [optimal] righteousness was demanded from the forerunners of all future generations. Isaac was to train Jacob to bring about infinite possibilities [optimal good for Israel].
Chazal teach that Jacob was the most prized of the patriarchs, “bachir shel Avos,” as he fulfilled his potential. Abraham was the pioneer, but with time, Isaac and Jacob built upon Abraham’s discoveries. Jacob uncovered new areas his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham could not see.
Question: How do we prove that all pleasures we seek as adults are in fact a search for a pleasure from our youths?
Rabbi Israel Chait: Maimonides teaches that for every pleasure [real satisfaction] there must exist novelty, and the desired object. A child never loses the novelty of his pleasures, so his pleasures endure. This is because the child desires the very thing he pursues. A child enjoys hearing a story repeatedly without his mother veering in anyway from the first read. The child desires the story, so he enjoys it and novelty does not fade.
But during maturity, human nature becomes frustrated and is dissatisfied with the childhood pleasures. Man’s energies redirect away from stories and toys, and seek other satisfactions. This is by God’s design, that man can look to wisdom as his new and lasting pleasure. Had man not been frustrated, he would never seek pleasures other than those of his youth. He would never engage wisdom, thereby forfeiting his true purpose. But due to his youthful attachment to sensual pleasures, most adults seek sensual replacements for those childhood pleasures, never entering the world of wisdom. Now, an adult does not truly desire the object he pursues, like a new car. He desires the car as a replacement for some phantom pleasure from youth which he fantasizes the car will provide. Thus, as the car is a replacement and not the true desire, the new car cannot offer endless pleasure. The pleasure fades. However, if an adult’s desire were truly for the new car, the adult too would never lose the novelty of its enjoyment, just like the child. The proof that all adult pleasures are in fact replacements, is derived from the question of why the pleasures fade.
Question: Why did God only provide hints—the tools for Rebecca’s plan to secure Jacob’s receipt of the birthright—as opposed to God clearly outlining a coherent plan for Rebecca’s success? Through Jacob seizing his brother’s heel at birth, God showed Rebecca that Jacob could contend with his twin Esav. God also provided Esav with a hairy body, for Rebecca would need that as well to hatch her plan. Both, Jacob’s personality and Esav’s bodily features were provided, but the plan was left to Rebecca’s thinking. Why?
Rabbi Israel Chait: God desires man use his free will [his own thinking] when it comes to acts of perfection. Jacob obtaining the birthright was such an act.