To Learn and to Teach
By: Rav Mordechai Greenberg
"To you and your offspring I will give all these lands ... I will increase your offspring like the stars of the heavens ... Because Avraham obeyed My voice." (Bereishit 26: 3-5) It is very surprising that Yitzchak does not have independent merit, only in the merit of Avraham! Similarly, it says later on, "I am the G-d of your father Avraham. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bless you and increase your offspring because of Avraham My servant." (26:24)
The Sforno addresses this issue, and points out that we do not find this phenomenon regarding the other patriarchs. Regarding Yaakov, and certainly Avraham, the Torah does not attribute the fulfillment of the promise to the merit of their fathers, but rather to their own merit. The Sforno answers (26:5 s.v. vayishmor mishmarti) that Avraham not only fulfilled the entire Torah himself, but rather he cared to go and proclaim the Name of G-d to others, as the Ramban writes, "His practice was to teach and publicize Divinity." Similarly, the Midrash comments, "He caused G-d's Name to be proclaimed by every person's mouth." Yaakov, as well, sat in the Beit Midrash of Shem and Ever -- "a wholesome man, abiding in tents" -- in order "to learn, and to teach the people wisdom, especially [those] in the tents of Shem and Ever, to where anyone who sought G-d undoubtedly went." (Sforno, ibid.)
However, we don't find that Yitzchak would teach others and proclaim G-d's Name. Since he didn't continue his father endeavor, he didn't merit the blessing -- other than in his father's merit. Only later on does it say, "He built an altar there, and proclaimed Hashem's Name" (26:25), and immediately afterwards it says, "We have indeed seen that Hashem has been with you ... Now, you, O blessed of Hashem." (26:28-29) From here on Yitzchak is blessed in his own merit.
The importance of teaching others is addressed by the Sforno also regarding Noach, about whom it says, "But Noach found grace in the eyes of Hashem." (6:8) Noach was "a righteous man, perfect in his generation," so why was there a need for finding grace in order to save him, and not in the merit of his righteousness? The Sforno comments on this, at the end of Parshat Bereishit, "Noach found grace -- to save also his sons and daughters." In other words, Noach himself was saved in the merit of his righteousness, but his merit did not serve to save his children also, and they were saved only in the merit of grace. The Sforno (6:8) explains the reason for this:
Because they did not teach their generation to know G-d, as [did] Avraham, Moshe, Shmuel, and others. For, indeed, a righteous person who perfects himself alone -- he is worthy of saving himself alone, but one who perfects another -- he is worthy that he should save others.
The Sforno learns this principle from explicit psukim in Sefer Yechezkel (14:13-16):
Son of Man, when a country sins against Me, acting with treachery, and I stretch out My hand against it ... and dispatch famine against it, and eliminate man and beast from it, then even if these three men would be in its midst -- Noach, Daniel and Iyov -- they, by their righteousness, would save [only] their own souls ... they would save neither sons nor daughters; they alone would be saved, but the land would be desolate.
The Meshech Chochma explains along these same lines the following Midrash: "Moshe is more cherished than Noach. Noach, after being called "a righteous man" is called "man of the earth," whereas Moshe, after being called "an Egyptian man" is called "man of G-d." (Bereishit Rabbah 36:3) There are two ways in the service of G-d. One, a person who self-focuses and isolates himself for the service of G-d. Two, a person who involves himself in public needs and commits himself to the klal and forsakes his life for them. Logic says that one who self-focuses will rise higher and higher, while one who does not look after himself, but concerns himself with others will go down. Nonetheless, we find that Noach, who isolated himself and didn't rebuke the people of his generation --declined from the level of "a righteous man" to that of "man of the earth," while Moshe, who began as "an Egyptian man," and sacrificed himself for Klal Yisrael -- rose to the level of "man of G-d," which is the ultimate perfection.
Shiur ID: 3594