From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
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By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood
Yitzchak had grown old and his eyes grew dim, so that he could not see. He summoned Esav his older son.
“so that he could not see” alternatively; “(his eyes grew dim ) on account of seeing”. When Avraham bound him upon the altar, Yitzchak gazed at the Shechinah-Divine Indwelling…at that time G-d decreed that his eyes be dimmed.
-Midrash Bereshis Rabbah 65:5
HaShem appeared to [Yitzchak] and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall assign for you.
Remain an immigrant in this land, and I will be with you, and bless you…
“Do not go down to Egypt.” You are [as] a perfect burnt offering, and being outside the Holy Land is not fitting for you.
[Moshe]…Climb to the top of the cliff, and gaze westward, northward, southward and eastward. See it [the Land of Israel/ Cana’an] with your eyes [only]; since you will not cross the Jordan.
“See it with your eyes”: You requested of Me “Let me… see the good land” (Pasuk 25). I am showing you all of it, as it says: “And HaShem showed him all the Land” (Devarim 34:1).
And Moshe was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: but his eyes had not dimmed, nor had his natural powers faded away.
The Izhbitzer observed that Moshe and Yitzchak were polar opposites. While Yitzchak was forbidden to ever leave the Land of Israel he was, ultimately, unable to see it. Whereas Moshe was denied permission to set foot in the Land of Israel but was allowed to look at the Land in its entirety!
His son, the second Izhbitzer adds an enigmatic wrinkle to his father’s thought-provoking observation: Moshe Rabenu is the Talmid Chacham-Torah scholar par excellence of the Jewish People. Talmidei Chachamim are, by definition, beings driven by keen perception and intellectual clarity. They channel the Divine will through precise, acute consciousness.
In contradistinction Yitzchak was, to use the contemporary parlance, “unconscious”. Even when completely oblivious to his surroundings and what he was actually doing he channeled the Divine will. Without consciously intending to do so he blessed Yaakov and this was, unknowingly, dare we say-blindly, consistent with HaShems will.
Imagine two archers both hitting one bulls eye after another. One was endowed with 20/10 vision and peerless hand-to-eye coordination while the other was myopic and all thumbs, but every arrow in his quiver had been fitted with a GPS device guiding it to its target, his arrows were mini “smart bombs”. Yitzchak was like the latter archer. HaShem had granted him the ability to see without seeing, to know without knowing.
While not contrasting Moshe and Yitzchak, Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, offers a deeper understanding of Yitzchaks blindness stemming from his binding upon the altar.
The problem with gazing at the Divine Indwelling is that it is fatal. “HaShem said: ‘You cannot have a vision of My Presence, for no man can have a vision of My Presence and live.’”(Shemos 33:20). This begs the question; we know that the Akedah-the Binding of Yitzchak, was a near-death experience. But if Yitzchak beheld the Divine Indwelling at the Akedah why did it not result in his actual death?
A darkness exists that can become more visible than light “He made darkness His hiding-place, His Sukkah surrounding Him; the darkness of waters, the thick clouds of the heavens” (Tehilim 18:12). The blind can “see” as well in a pitch-black room as in a brilliantly illuminated one. This may be among the meanings of teaching of our Sages OBM that “one who is blind is considered dead” It is the tzimtzum of Yitzchak, his powerful personal restraint/constraint and self-abnegation, his trait of יראה –Awe of HaShem that allowed him a ראיה-a vision, of the invisible. (The two terms, יראה and ראיה, in Lashon Kodesh-Biblical Hebrew, are word jumbles of one another.) Yitzchak’s eventual blindness of the material world was a direct result of his visual perception of the spiritual world. To enter and perceive that supernal World is to cross the threshold of the surrounding darkness.
This metamorphosis of Yitzchak’s vision not only allowed him to see HaShem but to see kiv’yachol as Hashem does. “for it is not as men see: for a man gazes at the outward appearance, but HaShem sees into the heart.’” (Shmuel I 16:7). Although he saw into Esavs heart and understood his hypocrisy he still summoned Esav and intended to bless him, and not his younger brother. He knew that Esavs pretense of piety was the homage his vice was paying to virtue and imagined that the blessings could redeem Esav, while Yaakov did not need them. Yet through his unconsciousness and blindness to the material world he marched in lockstep with the Divine will.
Adapted from Mei HaShiloach I Toldos D”H Vehee
Bais Yaakov Toldos Inyan 35 (pp 223–224)
Yisrael Kedoshim page 86 D”H V’Noda & V’heenei