Twice in his life Yitzchak Avinu trembled with great trepidation. The midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 67b) tells us that the first time was at the Akedah and the second was when he realized that he blessed Yaakov Avinu thinking it was Eisav. The midrash wonders, which of the two was with greater intensity? The midrash answers, when Yitzchak Avinu realized that he blessed the “wrong” son, “He was filled with a great trepidation” (Bereishit 27:33). This was clearly the greater of the two. Yet we may still wonder, how could anything be greater than the Akedah, the fear of imminent death?
Rav Sternbach in Ta’am Veda’as notes that these two experiences are representative of future experiences that Jews would endure throughout history. The Akedah symbolizes Jews dying al Kiddush Hashem, for sanctifying Hashem’s name. Yitzchak Avinu trembled with the fear that Jews would not be able to withstand this challenge. The incident of the brachot reflects those times when Jews will need to resort to using deception and trickery for self-preservation. Yitzchak Avinu was afraid that such acts of subterfuge may negatively impact the Jewish people and taint their inherent holiness. This fear was the greater of the two.
Rav Goldwicht in Asufout Marachot, focuses on the individuals involved in each event. When Yitzchak Avinu saw his father, the paradigm of chesed, acting counter to his essence, it filled him with dread. In our parsha, when Yitzchak Avinu sees Yaakov Avinu acting counter to his midah of emet, this too filled him with dread. Not only did Yitzchak see Yaakov engaged in deception, it was coupled with seeing Rivka orchestrate such an event that ran counter to her nature—being supportive of her husband. Hence, Yitzchak Avinu was filled with greater dismay and wonder.
Rav Shmulevitz in Sichos Mussar offers a profound insight into this analysis that holds a great lesson for our lives. When Yitzchak Avinu sees Eisav in front of him, Chazal tells us that he saw gehenom, open in front of Esav and he trembled with a sudden awareness. At that moment he realized that he had been mistaken about who his son really was. It was a moment of extreme clarity; He had spent many years with a false understanding and had made choices and decisions according to his perceived reality. He had treated Eisav as the future heir and suddenly the truth about Eisav emerged.
Rav Freiman in Sha’arei Derech applies this understanding with a sobering perspective. We must constantly introspect so as not to fall into a similar trap. At times people pride themselves on the performance of a mitzvah, an ideology or even being involved in a project that perhaps is actually faulty or not as beneficial as they imagined. As humans, our nature is to get into a certain groove in life believing we are on the right track without stopping at regular intervals to reassess. The pain of realization that we were mistaken on the path we chose may occur many years down the road. This is the agonizing awareness that Yitzchak Avinu felt not only for himself but for us, his children, as well. It is indeed something to be conscious of always.
Shira Smiles, a lecturer, author and curriculum developer, is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).