PARSHAT LECH LECHA: THE WORK OF THE HOLY PATRIARCHS
Chazal called Avraham Avinu the ‘head of the believers’, inasmuch as he was the root of all the emuna in Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
What’s the reason why only Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov are called ‘avot’, patriarchs, in the Torah? After all, there were Tzaddikim in the world before Avraham, like Adam HaRishon, who made so much teshuva; and after him there was Shet, his son, who was known to be an enormous Tzaddik; and then Hanoch, who didn’t even experience death and was taken straight up to shemayim (heaven) where he became an angel; and then there was Noach, who the Torah testifies about him that he was a perfect (lit: ‘whole’) tzaddik, and there was also his son Shem, and also another one of his descendents, Yaktan – and yet despite all this, we see that when it comes to Avraham Avinu, something entirely different is going on.
What, generally, was the level that Avraham Avinu achieved, compared to the rest of the Tzaddikim?
What no other tzaddik merited to achieve until Avraham Avinu came along was emuna and mesirut Nefesh (self-sacrifice) in the pursuit of the point of truth. Even Moshe Rabbenu, who was the rabbi of all the prophets, was called Moshe Rabbenu, and not Moshe Avinu (i.e. ‘our father’.)
It’s written in the holy books that one of the things that occurred as a result of Adam HaRishon’s sin was that all of the souls from that point on were intermingled.
Before Adam HaRishon’s sin, there was only one branch of souls, who were from the side of holiness, and which didn’t have any connection at all to the side of tumah (spiritual impurity). It was only after the sin that there was an internal ‘mixing up’ of the souls from the side of holiness, with the souls from the side of tumah.
So it was that in their days, every person’s soul was included in this intermingling, half from the side of holiness and half from the side of tumah. And this was the underlying reason why there wasn’t even the suggestion of Am Yisrael, or of a Jew, until the end of Sefer Bereishit.
AVRAHAM STARTED THE WORK OF BIRUR (CLARIFICATION)
In the language of the kabbalah, the work of the Patriarchs is called hayihud hapnimi – the internal unification, which gave birth to the holy souls, which from the time they came into the world would clarify and differentiate between good and bad.
Avraham was the first person who started to do this work of birur, clarification. And inasmuch that Avraham himself was born from a drop that included both the good and the bad, his first offspring was Ishmael, from Hagar the Egyptian, and by way of this birth, he effectively repelled and rejected the bad.
And after he rejected the bad, he had Yitzhak Avinu. And again, at the birth of Yitzhak, even though Yitzhak only came from the Avraham’s holy side, Yitzhak’s soul still also included good and bad.
By way of Yitzhak’s mesirut Nefesh, which was given its true expression by way of the test that occurred at the Akeda, the ‘binding of Yitzhak’, as it’s written in Chazal that Yitzhak’s soul departed from him at the time of the Akeda. And when it returned, it had been purified and was only from the side of holiness.
And then, he had Yaakov and Esav, and Esav was the waste matter of the bad that still existed within Yitzhak. (And we need to know that when we talk about the ‘bad side’ that existed within Avraham and Yitzhak, this isn’t talking about themselves personally, God forbid, but rather about the side of bad that arose due to the sin of Adam HaRishon, when all the souls became intermingled between good and bad, as explained above.)
YAAKOV IS THE ‘CHOSEN ONE’
Yaakov, who was the good part of Yitzhak, is called the ‘chosen one’ of the Patriarchs.
What does it mean, to be ‘the chosen one’ of the Patriarchs? The simple meaning of the words is that that soul of Yaakov Avinu, of blessed memory, was the first one that came only from the side of holiness, since the time of Adam HaRishon’s sin. And so, Yaakov Avinu merited to reach the level of Adam HaRishon before the sin, and all the offspring of Yaakov were a completely new creation – and this was effectively the birth of Am Yisrael.
Even though we still a yetzer hara (evil inclination) today, we should know that it’s only an external yetzer hara. And this is also the underlying reason why the yetzer hara is called a klipa, or shell.
Up to Yaakov Avinu, all the souls were internally mixed up between holiness and tumah, spiritual impurity. From Yaakov Avinu on, all the souls [of Am Yisrael] were only from the side of holiness.
Excerpted and translated from ‘Al Parshat Drachim’, by Rav Ofer Erez