The Interplay of Dread and Love

Why didn’t Yitzchak Avvinu seek his bride himself? Why was Eliezer dispatched?
Yitzchak represents gevurah, how was Rivkah, a personification of chessed, a fitting match for him?
Eliezer was not a card-carrying PETA member. Why was it so crucial that the intended bride water the camels as well?
Yitzchak was on his way, from Be’er laChai Roee. He was dwelling in the Negev Land at the time. Yitzchak went out to converse in the field toward evening.  He raised his eyes and saw camels come into view.

— Bereishis 24:62,63

For I have declared “the world is built through lovingkindness.”

— Tehillim 89:3

… Yaakov swore by the Dread of his father Yitzchak.

— Bereishis 31:53

Ben Zoma would say: … “Who is mighty? One who overcomes his inclination. As is stated ‘one who is imperturbable is better than a powerful, champion warrior; and one who reigns over his own spirit [is mightier] than the captor of a city. (Proverbs 16:32)’”

— Avos 4:1

In the day of good be absorbed of good, and in the day of evil observe; for Elokim has made one parallel/opposite the other.

Koheles 7:14

He [Eliezer] said [a prayer] “O HaShem, the Elokim of my master Avraham, Please cause occurrences to go my way today and do lovingkindness with my master Avraham … If I say to a [one of the towns] girl(s), ‘Tip your jug over and let me have a drink’ and she responds, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ she will be the one whom You have proven to be [the bride] for your slave Yitzchak. Through such a girl I will know that You have done lovingkindness with my master.

— Bereishis 24:12,14

As I live, says HaShem Elokim, surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with outpoured fury, I will be king over you.

— Yechezkel 20, 33

The Izhbitzer School teaches that the middos-defining character traits; of Avraham and Yitzchak, while antithetical to one another, are also complementary with each filling in what the other lacks.  Avraham was the exemplar of chessed-altruistic, overflowing loving-kindness; while Yitzchak was the paradigm of gevurah-strength-infused control.  Chessed is sourced in love while gevurah is rooted in fear and awe.

As the Lubliner Kohen explains both altruism and narcissism fall under the rubric of chessed as both are forms of love and, when acted upon, are both expressions of love. While altruism is a love that overflows the narrow boundaries of self and is considered holy, narcissism is a love directed inwardly and that never goes beyond the parameters of one’s own being. It is regarded as antisocial and evil.

The opposite can be said of gevurah. When this middah is self-directed we think highly of it and even revere it as sacred self-control. But gevurah that does not practice restraint and brims over the borders of the individual’s personality seeking to overpower others, often degenerates into dehumanizing, Machiavellian manipulation and, when a verbal or physically aggressive element is added, it becomes the foundation of all interpersonal violence and tyranny. Even when leading friends and overcoming foes is the call of the hour, the strength of true champion warriors flows from a deep-rooted self-control. As Douglas MacArthur, one of history’s greatest champion warriors prayed “O L-rd … Build me a son … who will master himself before he seeks to master other men.”

The Izhbitzer elucidates the pesukim-verses; leading up to Yitzchaks first encounter with his zivug-soulmate; Rivkah, through the prism of his middah of awe-based gevurah.  The lashon kodesh-holy tongue; root of the word Negev-desert; means dehydrated or dried out. Waters, perhaps because, absent containers, they are without form, represent lusts, yearnings and loves. Thus the Izhbitzer interprets the passuk “He was dwelling in Negev Land” to mean that Yitzchak, whose relationship with HaShem is described as “Dread” had exercised great gevurah to “dehydrate” himself of all lusts and yearnings. It is in the physical nature of dehydrated items to shrivel, shrink and withdraw somewhat into themselves and it is in the metaphysical nature of ovdei HaShem m’yirah bi’gevurah-those who serve G-d through awe and holy self-conquest/control; to shrink i.e. to be closely circumscribed by the boundaries of their own beings lest they contaminate their middah with manipulation and control of others; and withdraw from risks and being active altogether lest proactivity lead them to crossing the Will of the One they dread.

The sensibility of ovdei HaShem m’yirah is informed by the maxim shev v’al taaseh adif-sitting still and doing nothing is preferable; (cp. Eruvin 100A). Yitzchak, the root of all yirah was “yoshev” not merely dwelling but sitting inactive and passively b’Eretz haNegev “in the Land of Dehydration” of all lusts.  In an inversion of the modern-day miracle of making the deserts bloom, Yitzchak, through his dread of the Almighty and his own mighty and muscular self-conquest, had drained the temporal world’s swamps teeming with lusts and yearnings of their last drop of liquid, come-hither fluidity. He sat and did nothing in the land of his dehydration.

Avraham, recognizing his son’s deep-seated passive approach to worshipping HaShem understood that he might not be able to muster the “get-up-and-go” necessary to go down and get his bride from a land so far-flung geographically and even more distant ideologically. This is why he dispatched Elizezer, instead of the groom himself, to retrieve Rivkah.  Eliezer was his loyal student who shared his proactive approach to avodas HaShem

But this begs the question: If Avraham and Eliezer recognized Yitzchak’s diametrically opposed middah of gevurah, why was the litmus test to determine a bride suitable for him one of chessed? How could Yitzchak be expected to maintain a happy and productive nation-building marriage with someone with whom he shared nothing in common?

As will be demonstrated presently, the Izhbitzer School addresses the problem of how antithetical gevurah and chessed can be harmonized and synthesized on both the Divine and human levels. Still, perhaps the clearest and most direct answer is expressed by the Chazon Ish. He wrote that at the root level there is but one middah of good and one middah of evil. On a practical level — when waging the milchemes hayetzer-the war against the inclination to evil; and seeking to heal various maladies of the soul — a specialized approach may be necessary. But the diverse multi-limbed anatomy of shleimus hamiddos– wholesomeness of character; forms an organically integrated whole which is either entirely good or completely evil. If one has refined his middah of goodness he will utilize both his chessed and his gevurah as called for and exclusively in their holy and positively charged applications.

To illustrate the practical, applied branching out of specialized middos from the integrated whole of the body of goodness, the Lubliner Kohen explains how the holy iterations of chessed and gevurah defeat one another’s unholy alter-egos. Chessed — as HaShem’s primary Middah in Creation — is identified with the right side which is normatively the stronger of the two sides; while Gevurah is identified with the weaker left side. However when facing one’s opponent in an adversarial stance, one’s right side faces the antagonists left side and vice versa. So when good confronts evil the right/ chessed of good is pitted against the gevurah/ left of evil while the gevurah/ left of good must wrestle with the right/ chessed of evil.  This is why the “left-handedness” of the dread of Heaven is the downfall of unholy lusts and narcissism.  As Avraham exclaimed when excoriating the rampant licentiousness of Avimelech the Philistine king and his court “There is no dread of Elokim in this place” (Bereishis20:11) so what’s missing is the weapon with which one does battle with corrupted chessed. Conversely the love of Hashem of which ahavas Yisrael-the love of Jews; is but another facet; keeps murder, rage and jealousy at the strong arm’s length and underpins every act of lovingkindness.

The Bais Yaakov-the second Izhbitzer; explains how, when the Divine middah of Gevurah shines with the fullness of its brilliance, It incorporates the middah of Chessed in a kind of Divine tough-love. In the words of the Tanna d’bei Eliyahu (first chapter) G-d leads Klal Yisrael-the Jewish people; as an intimidating, no nonsense father kivyachol-so to speak; might train his son. “I will be a bear to you, I will be a lion to you.” The intent behind the father’s harsh threats and the outward displays of controlling anger is the tender love that he has for his son. Dad wants his son to improve himself, clean up his act and realize his full potential. He wants his son to be a mentsch who will master himself before he seeks to master other men. Similarly, kivyachol, HaShem leads Klal Yisrael with Gevurah to beam the light of holy dread and awe into their hearts so that they are drawn after His Will, but precisely at the moment of these Exercises of Gevurah HaShem is Full , kivyachol, of Mercy and Tenderness for His people.

Rav Gershon Henoch, the Radzyner Rebbe, avers that gevurah complements chessed through tzimtzum-contraction; and histapkus b’muat contentment with the bare minimum. Baalei gevurah tend to maintain Spartan lifestyles. By needing so very little for themselves and consuming the barest minimum, they leave plenty of resources over to bestow, kindly and lovingly, upon others. Yitzchak sowed seeds — returned everything that HaShem had given him, back to its Divine Source — whatever grain he had went right back into the ground (Bereishis 26:12).

Even on the most overt level the test of Rivkah, the intended zivug for Yitzchak, the paradigm of gevurah, was one of flexing her chessed muscles. Moreover, in a convergence of style and substance, Eliezer keeps imploring HaShem for a display of Divne Chessed towards his master Avraham in his prayer for her emergence and for her passing the test.  But the Bais Yaakov teaches that it goes much deeper than that. For Yitzchak’s patriarchy demanded an apparent impossibility of him. How can sacred gevurah which, when projected beyond the boundaries of self, mutates into the dark underbelly of gevurah — manipulation, control and tyranny; ever be passed on to future generations who, axiomatically, surpass the boundaries of self?

As successive emanations of gevurah move forward through a variety of ever thicker, concealing and distorting levushim-external veils; it presents itself as hot-blooded fury and sadistic cruelty. This was evidenced in the very first generation with the birth of Esav/ Edom — the personification of shfichas damim– homicide and despotic empire-building. How will a great nation possessed of purely holy gevurah ever be built? It seems that gevurah would be forced to take a page out of the book of chessed which maintains its goodness and holiness davka– specifically; when it overflows the borders of self.

Enter Rivkah, the feminine paradigm of chessed to facilitate Yitzchak’s overcoming this impossibility. In an esoteric exposition deconstructing the structure of the letter gimmel the Bais Yaakov teaches that her declaration “I will draw for your gemalim-camels; as well, so that they too can drink their fill” (Bereishis 24:19) was alluding to her ability to help Yitzchak project the synthesized, holistic middah of goodness until the end of all generations/ the lowest of all levels.  Rivkah would not merely water the gemalim she would saturate the gimmels with the fluidity to take a step outside the tapering narrow constraints of the vav and transmit refined holiness and purity to even the very last generations of bnei Yisrael.

~adapted from Mei Hashiloach Vayera D”H v’Yitzchak
Bais Yaakov Vayera 28
Sod Yeshorim Sukkos 23
Resisei Laylah 10
Kometz HaMinchah 45
Chazon ish Emunah U’Bitachon 4:1

One comment on “The Interplay of Dread and Love

  1. Amazing! Very well said Rabbi Schwartz! We should all take that step forward! Recognizing our ovdei HaShem is definitely very much connected to the recognition of chesed that we are giving throughout our lives. Here our self-control, whether from the perspective of Yitzchak in the commentary from the Izhbitzer, where personal restraint is highlighted, or in the case of Avraham Aveinu, where, immediately after losing his wife while owning no property and having a 37 year old bachelor son, he begins immediately finding his son a wife, marrying a woman (hagar) whose name now reflects her teshuva, and buying land, and laying the foundation for a center for future recognition of our ancestral heritage, to bury Sarah.

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