Vayikra, 26:42: And I will remember my Covenant with Yaakov, and even my Covenant with Yitzchak, and even my Covenant with Avraham will I remember, and the Land I will remember.

Rashi, 26,42: Dh: Vezacharti: “Why were they [the Avot] listed in reverse order? It is as if to say, Yaakov, the smallest is sufficient for this, and if he is not sufficient, then Yitzchak is with him, and if he is not sufficient, then Avraham is with him, for he is sufficient.”

Towards the end of the chastisements, the Torah tells us that God will remember the merit of the Forefathers. However, the Torah mentions the Forefathers in reverse order, beginning with Yaakov and ending with Avraham. Rashi explains that the Torah is coming to teach that if Yaakov’s merit alone does not suffice, then that of Yitzchak will be added, and if that is still insufficient, then Avraham’s merit will ensure that the salvation of the Jewish people.1

Rabbi Meir Shapiro2 offers a different insight to this question. The Sages teach us that each of the three Forefathers epitomized a certain character trait: Avraham’s main attribute was Chesed [kindness], Yitzchak personified the attribute of Avodah [Divine Service] and Yaakov represented Torah.

Rav Shapiro noted that there was a time that Jews, despite the exile and its distractions, were meticulous in all three of these areas. However, as the Exile has persisted, Torah study became less of a factor in the lives of the Jewish people, as fewer people were able to devote their lives to Torah learning, due to the burden of persecution and the necessity to devote most of one’s time to eke out a living in order to survive. Boys generally went to Cheder until their Bar Mitzvah and then had to leave school and make a living to help the family make ends meet. Only the select few continued on with devoting most of their time to Torah learning.

Yet, even in such a period, where Torah was not widely learned, Rabbi Shapiro asserts that Jews were strong in the second pillar – that of prayer. Avodah persisted with much deeper roots than the intellectually challenging dedication to Torah study. If the redemption were to take place in such an era, then it would be credited to the merit of Yitzchak.

But then, the exile persisted such that even the power of our prayer diminished. This perhaps manifest itself in two ways. Firstly, that due to the burden of work, people were less careful in praying in a minyan. Secondly, our intention in prayer seems to have deteriorated. This is seen in Jewish law: There are a number of instances where the law was that if someone prayed without the requisite intent, then he would have to pray again, even if it meant repeating God’s name. However, the more recent Authorities commented that nowadays, our level of intention is so much lower, that there is no guarantee that we will have any more concentration when we repeat the prayer again. Accordingly, they rule that one should not repeat the prayer in such cases3.

However, there still remained an attribute amongst the Jewish people that would stay with them forever – the characteristic of Avraham – the attribute of Chesed. As Rabbi Yissachar Frand expresses it:

“We see there are Jews who have no connection to Torah or to Avodah. They are never seen in the Beis Medrash [study hall] or even the Beit Kenesset [synagogue]. But they do take leadership roles in establishing hospitals, orphanages, and all kinds of social welfare organizations. This, Rav Meir Shapiro says, is the interpretation of the verse in Parshat Bechukotai: I hope to redeem Klal Yisrael for the merit of their Torah study (the attribute of Yaakov); if not that then for the merit of their dedication to prayer (the attribute of Yitzchak); but if not that then at least I will redeem them for their dedication to Chesed (the attribute of Avraham).”

Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman also makes this very point4. The Talmud5 expounds on the verse at the beginning of Lech Lecha: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you and I will magnify your name and you will be a blessing6.” The Talmud explains that the clause, “I will make you a great nation” refers to the to the fact that we say “G0d of Avraham”. “I will bless you” this refers to the fact that we say “God of Yitzchak”. “I will magnify your name” – this refers to the fact that we say “God of Yaakov.”

The Talmud continues: “I might think that we should mention all of them in the conclusion of the Blessing?” (Magen Avraham, Yitzchak, v’Yaakov). To counter this notion, the verse concludes “and you will be a blessing” – meaning with your name (Avraham) they will conclude not with a combination of all the names.

Rav Wasserman interprets the words, “b'cha chotmim” (with you will be the conclusion) to allude to the fact that at the end of time, at the conclusion of all generations of history, the final redemption will not come about through Torah or through Avodah but with your attribute of Chesed will your children merit their final redemption. Based on Rabbi Shapiro’s explanation above, the reason for this may be, because the one area in which we will have the opportunity to excel more than our ancestors, is the realm of Chesed.

These ideas seem particularly pertinent for the unprecedented crisis that the world has experienced in the past several months. For the first time in everyone’s memories, the batei medrash (study halls) and shuls have been totally closed, making it far more difficult to properly fulfil the pillars of Torah and Avodah7. However, the one area where there appears to be more opportunity than normal to excel is that of Chesed. There are so many people in need in different ways and so many ways to help them. Indeed, there are many stories of Jews making a great Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name) by helping others, such as the yeshiva student who bought numerous rolls of toilet paper with his own money and gave them for free to strangers, when there was a shortage.

Another example is that hundreds of Jews in New York happily donated blood that could potentially save the lives of people suffering from the Corona Virus. Other, simpler suggestions that have been given are to contact someone with whom you haven’t been in touch with for a while, to give old toys or books that your children no longer use, to someone who would appreciate them, praying for others in need, and offering to deliver food for the sick or elderly.

If we can excel in the trait of chesed at this time, then we play a role in speeding the redemption.

  1. See my Dvar Torah on Bechukotai, ‘The Greatness of Innovation’ for discussion of why Yaakov’s merit seems to be less than that of Yitzchak, and why the merit of Yitzchak is less than that of Avraham.
  2. Cited by Rabbi Yissachar Frand, shlit’a.
  3. Needless to say, this is not meant to be an authoritative ruling – If such a question arises, one should ask a Rav in his specific case.
  4. Cited by Rabbi Yissachar Frand in the name of Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman.
  5. Pesachim, 107b.
  6. Bereishis, 12:2.
  7. Needless to say, that, based on the idea of ‘lefum tsaarah agra’ – that the greater the difficulty, the greater the reward – a person can gain great merit for his efforts in learning and praying when it so difficult. The point being made here is that, on an objective level, the level of Torah learning and prayer has gone down due to the situation.