Our parasha contains a crucial narrative in the lives of the Avot — a famine in the Land of Israel, and Yitzchak’s initial desire to follow in his father’s footsteps and travel to Egypt to avoid starvation.
In this instance, however, Hashem reveals himself to Yitzchak and commands him to remain in Eretz Yisrael: “And the L-rd appeared to him, and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land that I will tell you’ ” (Bereishit 26:2).
In addition to the command to “dwell in the land,” Hashem proclaims that Yitzchak will have numerous offspring, and that the covenant with Avraham will be fulfilled through him: “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and I will bless you, for to you and to your children will I give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Avraham, your father. And I will multiply your children like the stars of the heavens, and I will give your children all these lands” (26:3-4).
The Torah often refrains from providing a rationale for future events. In our case, however, Hashem explicitly tells Yitzchak why he will receive these blessings: “Because Avraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge (mishmarti), My commandments (mitzvotai), My statutes (chukotai), and My instructions (torotai)” (26:5).
Rashi explains each of these terms: Mishmarti refers to decrees that help distance us from transgression, such as secondary prohibitions to prevent incest, and rabbinic decrees to safeguard Sabbath.
Mitzvotai refers to prohibitions that would have been fit to command even if they had they not been written in the Torah, such as robbery and bloodshed.
Chukotai refers to things that the yetzer hara and the nations of the world argue, such as eating pork and wearing garments of wool and linen, for which no reason is given but the decree of G-d.
Finally, the word torotai is there to include the Oral Law, given to Moses at Sinai.
Rashi’s analysis is based on a variety of rabbinic sources that maintain that Avraham kept the entire Torah, including rabbinic decrees and enactments, generations before it was given at Mount Sinai.
We may well ask, “Why did Avraham fulfill the Torah if he was not commanded to do so?”
My rebbi and mentor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l, guides us toward an answer, stating that “in many respects, G-d was closer to Abraham than He was to Moses.” The Rav notes that Avraham acquired the moral law, and by extension halacha, through “the machazeh, the prophetic vision, not the royal decree [as in the case of Moses].” He continues this theme by suggesting, “There is no imposition of divine authority… Only a bilateral covenant, which binds both man and G-d, was concluded.”
According to the Rav, Avraham was Hashem’s friend. Once Avraham received his prophetic vision, he did everything in his power to comply with G-d’s every request.
“G-d addresses Himself to Abraham not in the commanding, authoritative tone of the L-rd but in the comradely, friendly manner of a fellow wanderer. He [G-d] wants a covenant with him. G-d, as it were, is lonesome and He is anxious to find a companion.”
The statement that “G-d, as it were, is lonesome and He is anxious to find a companion” is a theological tour de force, teaching us that as much as we wish to draw close to Hashem, He, too, longs for the Jewish people’s embrace.
In many ways, this concept is reminiscent of the first stanza of the stirring poem “Yedid Nefesh,” or “Beloved of the Soul,” that is often sung in Ashkenazi synagogues during Kabbalat Shabbat, and at shalosh seudot:
“Beloved of the soul, Compassionate Father, draw Your servant to Your Will, then Your servant will hurry like a hart to bow before Your majesty; to him Your friendship will be sweeter than the dripping of honeycomb and any taste.”
May we strive to emulate Avraham Avinu as we reach out to Hashem, our Yedid Nefesh, with heartfelt prayer and dedication to His holy Torah.