May 15, 2014
After the terrible maledictions that will befall Israel should they not adhere to God’s mitzvot, we are given the silver lining that surrounds the curses. The following pasuk tells us that no matter what, God will not forget His people, Israel, because of His promise to the Forefathers. When we examine the following comment of Rashi, we will see how Rashi makes use of the Midrash.
וְזָכַרְתִּי אֶת בְּרִיתִי יַעֲקוֹב וְאַף אֶת בְּרִיתִי יִצְחָק וְאַף אֶת בְּרִיתִי אַבְרָהָם אֶזְכֹּר וְהָאָרֶץ אֶזְכֹּר
Leviticus 26:42 “And I will remember My covenant with Jacob and
also My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and the Land will I remember.”
RASHI. I will remember My covenant with Jacob – RASHI: Why are they listed backwards? As if to say: Jacob, the youngest, is worthy of that; and if he is not worthy, behold, Isaac is with him, and if he is not worthy, behold, Abraham is with him and he is worthy. And why is the word “remembrance” not mentioned in connection with Isaac? Since the ashes of Isaac (from the Akeidah) are seen before me piled up and placed on the altar.
Clearly what is disturbing Rashi is the backward listing of the Forefathers. Everywhere else in the Torah they are listed as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Why is it described here otherwise?
Rashi tells us the logic behind this backward order. The merits of the Forefathers are mentioned here as justification for saving the people from total destruction, even though the people may deserve their punishment. The Torah seems to imply that perhaps if their sins are not too bad, then Jacob’s merits alone can save them. But even if the sins are more grievous, then Isaac’s merits together with Jacob’s are needed to save them. And if the worst is anticipated, and Jacob and Isaac are not sufficient protection, then Abraham’s merits can also be added to the scales. This will certainly be sufficient.
Rashi’s source is the Midrash in Vayikra Rabba. There it says:”Why are the Forefathers listed backwards? To say: If the acts of Jacob are not worthy, the acts of Isaac are worthy, and if the acts of Isaac are not worthy, the acts of Abraham are worthy. The acts of each one is sufficiently worthy that the world can be saved for his sake.”
However Rashi’s comment is somewhat different from the wording of the Midrash. The main difference seems to be that while the midrash summarizes by saying that the acts of each alone should be sufficiently worthy to save the world, Rashi leaves this out. The verse says “I will remember My covenant with Jacob and also My covenant with Isaac and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember…” We see that the verse does not take each Forefather separately but cumulatively: “and also My covenant with…” This may be the reason why Rashi preferred to see the cumulative effects of the merits of the Fathers as opposed to their individual merits, which the Midrash stated.
The latter part of this comment also comes from Vayikra Rabba. The Midrash says:”Why does it say ‘remembrance’ by Jacob and by Abraham, but not by Isaac? Rav Brechya said: Because he suffered from afflictions (i.e. he was blind). The Rabbis said: He saw the ashes of Isaac as if they were piled up the altar.”
We see that Rashi chose the Rabbis’ interpretation over that of Rav Brechya’s. When Rashi uses drash he only uses those that he consider to be the peshat. . The Rabbis’ drash here explains why God did not need to say “remembrance” for Isaac – because his ashes were in front of Him all the time. Rav Brechya’s drash, on the other hand, doesn’t deal as directly with the issue of remembrance.
It states, “the ashes of Isaac.” This refers to the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham (the Akedah). But in the end, Isaac was not sacrificed! There were no ashes! Yet here it says “the ashes of Isaac.” Why? This would seem to be the Midrash’s way of saying: Abraham and Isaac’s intentions were so sincere that God considered it as if they had, in actuality, gone through with the sacrifice.
Rashi has made use of the Sage’s drash to explain the unusual order of the listing of the Forefathers in this verse.
Taking up Rashi’s theme, Rav Yosef Bechor Shor, one of the Ba’alei HaTosefos, born a hundred years after Rashi, says, that since we are speaking of God remembering the Forefathers, and since Jacob was the last of the Forefathers, he is nearest in time to the present. Therefore, it would be easiest (in human terms) to remember him. Thus, Hashem says I will remember Jacob and, if necessary, I will even remember the more remote Isaac, and, if necessary, I will remember even the furthest back in time, Abraham.
Rashi himself did not use this peshat as God’s “memory” is not affected by time.
Rabbi Meir Wise