When famine strikes the Land of Israel, Isaac plans to go to Egypt. However, God instructs him to remain in Israel and go to the land of the Philistines - God assures him of great blessing: "I will increase your offspring like the stars of the heaven; and I will give to your offspring all these land; and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your offspring. Because Abraham obeyed My voice, and observed My safeguards (Mishmarti), My Commandments, My decrees and My Torahs." (1)

The commentaries differ on the meaning of the word, 'mishmarti' in the Torah's description of Abraham's righteousness. The Seforno offers a novel interpretation of 'Mishmarti'. He writes that this refers to the trait 'that is guarded (mishmeret) to me', which is that of chesed (kindness), thus God is praising Abraham for being so proficient in emulating God's own trait of chesed. The whole foundation of God's creation is chesed, and Abraham emulated this trait by doing the greatest possible chesed of giving others the opportunity to get close to God.

The Seforno continues in the same section to address a very difficult problem with this verse: On two occasions in the Portion, God blesses Isaac, but only in the merit of Abraham. The first is the verse above and the second is after Isaac's travails with the Philistines; "... I will bless you and increase your offspring because of Abraham my servant." (2) The Seforno contrasts this with both Abraham and Jacob who were always blessed in their own merit and not in that of their fathers. He explains that Abraham and Jacob were both involved in teaching others from early in their lives. Abraham's exploits are well-known and Seforno writes with certainty that Jacob taught people who came to the Yeshivas of Shem and Ever.(3) Accordingly, they were blessed in their own merit throughout their lives. In contrast, up to this point, Isaac did not call out in the name of God, and consequently did not merit to be blessed in his own merit. He is blessed in his own merit only after he emulates his father and does call out in the name of God: "He built an altar there, and called in the name of God." (4) Soon after, Avimelech approaches him to make peace and ends by calling him, the "Blessed of Hashem." (5) It is at this point, the Seforno writes that Isaac is blessed in his own merit.

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv comments on the implication of this Seforno. Isaac was one of the three Patriarchs, who was willing to give up his life for God in the Akeida, and who was so holy that he can never leave Israel. Yet the Torah writes about him as if he has no merit until he calls out in the name of God! Rav Elyashiv writes; "We see from here the incredible merit and reward that one receives for spreading awareness of God to the people." (6)

It still needs to be understood why exactly Isaac's great righteousness was not sufficient to earn him the right to be blessed in his own merit until he spread God's name. Rav Chaim Volozhin writes that 'bracha' means ribui (abundance). Thus, the purpose of bracha is to cause an increase or continuation in something. Based on this, my Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits, explains that a person is only worthy of receiving the bracha of abundance if he himself contributes to causing abundance and continuity in the world by causing others to follow the Derech Hashem. Accordingly, despite all his great acts, Isaac only received blessing in his own merit when he himself contributed to the increase of people who would follow the Derech Hashem.

The question remains as to why Isaac refrained from calling out in the name of God until this point. Rav Elyashiv suggests that the explanation for this is that since his father had already spread awareness of God, there was no need for him to do so. However, Rav Elyashiv points out, we see the great reward that Isaac received for doing so even though his father had already done so.

We learn from here a lesson that is highly relevant in the world today - that the fact that there are some people who devote time and effort to spreading Torah does not exempt everyone else from also contributing in some form. A person may argue that since there are people already involved, there is no need for him to do so. The problems with this argument are twofold: Firstly, we see from the Seforno that in a person needs to be involved in bringing others close to God for his own benefit and to be worthy of bracha. Secondly, there are a tremendously low number of people who are involved in any form of outreach (including part-time outreach, such as learning a few hours a week with a beginner or having secular people for Shabbat) in comparison to the numbers of secular Jews who are leaving Judaism in the millions.(7) The only possible way to stem the tide is if every Jew takes upon himself to devote some amount of time to Kiruv.

Great Torah Scholars have always taken every opportunity to emulate Abraham's efforts to bring people close to God. Rav Mendel Kaplan made great efforts to befriend and teach secular Jews whenever he encountered them. His outreach even extended to children. A non-religious secretary in the yeshivah once brought her nine-year old son with her to work. When Reb Mendel saw the little boy playing in the hall, he called him over, pointed to a Chumash and asked, "Do you know what this is?" "Sure" the boy answered, "it's a Bible." "No," answered Reb Mendel, "this is a Chumash." He then pulled up two chairs and sat with the boy for an hour, teaching him Chumash on a level that the child could understand and appreciate. Later that day someone asked him why he had devoted so much of his precious time to a nine-year old boy. Answered Reb Mendel, "I hope that I've a planted a seed that will grow years from now." (8) We may think, that we cannot have any positive effect on unaffiliated Jews, however one can never know what seeds he plants that may bloom in a seemingly unconnected way many years later. Rav Kaplan was a great Torah scholar who reached great heights in his own Torah learning and general righteousness. However, he recognized that this did not absolve him of his responsibility to look for opportunities to 'call in the name of HaShem'.

We learn from the Seforno that even a righteous person is not worthy of bracha unless he spreads God awareness in the world. Rav Elyashiv further teaches us that there is no validity to the argument that others are already doing so is. May we all merit to play our role in calling in the name of God.


1. Toldos, 26:4-5.

1. 2. Toldos, 26:24.

3. The Ramban, in contrast writes that Yaakov fulfilled his obligation to spread the word of God through his sons.

4. Toldos, 26:25.

5. Toldos, 26:29.

6. Divrei Aggada, pp. 74-75.

7. Here is a small indication of the numbers involved in this spiritual Holocaust: The intermarriage rate in USA in 1950 was 6%, by 1990 it was 52% and rising. 2 million Jews of Jewish origin do not identify themselves as Jews. 2 million self-identified Jews have no Jewish connection whatsoever. For every wedding between two Jews, two intermarriages take place. 625,000 US Jews are now practicing other religions. 11% of US Jews go to shul#. Every day dozens of intermarriages take place which means that in the time it took you to read this, some Jews were lost forever. It should be noted that this survey was 18 years ago, and the numbers involved are considerably greater now.

8. 'Reb Mendel and his Wisdom', p. 258.