“These are the offsprings of Yitzchak the son of Avraham; Avraham bore Yitzchak.” If Yitzchak is the son of Avraham, it seems redundant to then say “Avraham bore Yitzchak.” The Siftei Chachamim based on the Gemara (Bava Metzia 87a) explains the back story. Upon Yitzchak’s birth [which was certainly a profound miracle that demonstrated God’s control over nature since Sarah was 90 years old at the time and was also previously barren], Avraham made a party, and many people attended. Amongst the multitudes of guests, there were also the “leitzanei ha’dor” (the local scoffers/jokesters) who were jesting around saying that Yitzchak was born from a union between Sarah and Avimelech [this is a reference to when Avimelech took Sarah but then relinquished control upon experiencing a harsh plague]. In order to counteract the letzanim, Hashem made a unique miracle, changing Yitzchak’s facial features to appear exactly as his father Avraham’s. Hence, explains Rashi, the pasuk thus intentionally writes the redundancy of “‘Avraham’ bore yitzchak” [and not Avimelech]. Seemingly, we see how a cynical jesting can potentially cover up an open miracle [that Sarah gave birth], and also cause a contrasting perspective on this event to see it in derogatory terms.
R’ Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Beis Halevi on the Torah) asks: Even if they were being cynical, how could it cause a denial of the miracle? After all, even if Yitzchak was theoretically born from a union between Sarah and Avimelech, this still would be a miracle since Sarah giving birth was itself the miracle (being that she was 90 and previously barren). Moreover, the statement that Yitzchak came from Avimelech is foolish, for after all, we all know that Avimelech was struck with a plague that blocked all his orifices from working! Therefore, says R’ Soloveitchik, really these people didn’t mean to say that Yitzchak came from a union between Sarah and Avimelech. Rather, they thought that the suffering Sarah went through by being taken by Avimelech worked as a merit for her to give birth to Yitzchak. Hence, by saying Yitzchak came from Avimelech, they meant “because” of Avimelech. Meaning, based on the suffering he caused Sarah to go through. Hence, they were just making a simple jest, like a cute connection between two events that they thought had some relation to another. So what is so bad about that? R’ Soloveitchik explains that although their intentions weren’t negative, the generations to come might not realize where this joke was coming from and end up viewing it in cynical and jesting terms.
R’ Yerucham Levovitz (Da’at Torah, Toldot) asks what seems to be an apparent contradiction and which he seems to leave unanswered. When Hashem wanted to create man, the pasuk says “Let us make man.” The midrash (Bereishit Rabba, 8:8) writes that when Moshe was writing down the Torah, once he reached the above pasuk he said to Hashem, “Master of the World, why are you giving the heretics an argument to support their views [that are against the belief of one sole God]? Hashem responded, “Write it, and whoever makes a mistake will make a mistake.” Asks Rav Yerucham, we see that Hashem is not as concerned with people potentially making critical mistakes, whereas in our parsha He is concerned about the leitzanim not potentially faltering by saying Yitzchak was from Avimelech! Why are we more concerned about leitzanim not messing up and not as concerned if heretics mess up!? Moreover, we see from R’ Soloveitchik’s insight into the leitzanim that even though they didn’t have bad intentions, Hashem still “went out of His way” to make sure no one later on would potentially make a mistake. Yet, when actual heretics would make a direct mistake trying to use the Torah to fit their corrupted beliefs, Hashem did not seem to mind as much!
The question may be better than an answer, but perhaps we can explain that leitzanut is that which devalues what is valuable, but specifically when in the form of making light out of it, in the form of a jest. Humor can downplay seriousness and liven things up. Many times this is essential, while at other times it can deflate positive moments, ideals that are important, and that which we live for. It doesn’t just dismiss, but can cause an opposite effect—like it’s something to joke about. Moreover, it’s evident from Mesilat Yesharim that leitzanut can dispel reason, logic, and knowledge and squash any mussar and yirat Hashem. It’s a trait that can be consuming and very difficult to overcome (see chap 5). The Ohr Yahel says: “One act of levity can push off one hundred forms of wisdom.” A heretic who believes in two Gods—it’s definitely against our belief; yet, such a person at least still maintains the ability to believe in the concept of “God,” and so there’s still hope he will come back. But leitzanut, as we see, can deflate the whole concept of God and life. Additionally, leitzanut breeds leitzanut, and even though one act of it may not be inherently negative as R’ Soloveitchik conveys, nevertheless there seems to be a great concern of a slippery slope in this area, so much so that Hashem needed to ensure the veracity of Yitzchak’s parents so people later on wouldn’t eventually come to express cynicism in a jesting way about this event. Sometimes we might not realize the effect of a simple jest, but we see from here another measure of care to take when it comes to this area.
Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected]