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Parshat Vaeira: Understanding Judgment

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

In Parshat Vaeira, the Shem MiShmuel examines the intriguing story of Akeidat Yitzchak. He quotes the Midrash Tanchuma: Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai taught that in the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash a korban olah, burnt offering, was brought to atone for bad thoughts.  In the same vein, the test of Akeidat Yitzchak came as a result of an erroneous thought Avraham had which needed atonement. Rabbi Levi said that Avraham looked at all the blessings Hashem had given him and mistakenly thought, “Maybe I received all my reward in this world and I will not get my reward in the World to Come.” Why was this thought incorrect?

The Shem MiShmuel explains that Hashem deals with this world on two levels, din (strict judgment) and chesed (loving kindness). In the beginning of Bereishit, Rashi notes that the first mention of the creation of the world uses the name Elokim, which connotes justice. However, subsequent references use both the names Elokim and Hashem, which connotes mercy. Originally Hashem planned to create the world solely with din, but he saw it would not be able to survive without chesed.  Likewise, some mitzvot such as Shabbat and Kashrut correspond to din while others such as charity and visiting the sick correspond to chesed.

Similarly, in our relationship with others we must use both approaches. Although discipline has  its place, there must be room for chesed too. Yet many times it’s unclear which path to take. Only by studying Torah and observing the ways of tzadikim can we get a sense of Hashem’s will.

In a mysterious way, Hashem’s din and chesed ultimately merge. For us it seems a paradox, how can pure justice be one with mercy, which seems to stretch the truth? Rav Soloveitchik explains, we ask Hashem in our prayers, “Oseh shalom b’imromov hu yaseh shalom aleinu (You who make peace above, create peace among us).  We pray to Hashem that just as din and chesed are one in heaven, let it be here on earth too. Let us understand the kindness in Your din and the justice in Your chesed.

Avraham was confused by this issue. He thought that perhaps Hashem was giving him his reward in this world so that He could punish him in the next world. Perhaps His chesed was really din and in the future he would suffer.  The Rambam writes in Mishna Torah that a person should always look at himself as being on the edge, half good and half evil. If he does a mitzvah he leans towards righteousness and if he sins he turns towards evil. The Rambam is making a theological statement, not a psychological one.

Theoretically it’s difficult to know who is a true tzadik or rasha because only Hashem knows the truth. One good deed can outweigh thousands of misdeeds and visa versa. We don’t know the repercussions of our actions. Therefore we must view ourselves in a state of limbo and do as many good deeds as possible. On a second level, this outlook should motivate us to do more mitzvot. But under no circumstances may a person think he is a rasha. This is a false idea, the work of the yetzer hara to make us lose faith in ourselves. On the contrary, one must believe that one’s strength will ultimately overcome one’s weaknesses.

Avraham’s confusion of din and chesed brought on the test of the akeidah.  The akeidah actualized Avraham and Yitzchak’s incredible love and dedication to Hashem. It was in fact a great chesed. Until this point Yitzchak couldn’t have children. He had a feminine soul expressed as din in a male body. At Akeidat Yitzchak, Avraham, whose male quality was chesed, was able to bind chesed and din and transform Yitzchak so he could build the Jewish people.

In reality Avraham was so righteous he merited both worlds. His minor failings were completely wiped away by the flood of his chesed. Yet Avraham was so modest he thought he deserved din. Hashem had to disown him of this notion and he did so through Akeidat Yitzchak.


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