Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak RudominCourtesy

See part one and part two.

Note: The following is the way I understood and applied Rav Yitzchok Hutner's words and ideas, it is not meant as a translation or definition of his works.

The foundations of a people are its forefathers and founders and its was crucial to Rav Yitzchok Hutner (1906–1980) to establish in the minds of his young Jewish Americanized disciples from the 1930s to the 1970s that that meant the importance of understanding that the Torah's Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) were the most important foundational pillars of the Jewish People/the Children of Israel.

Rav Hutner loved to repeat a rhyming Yiddish saying: "Avrohom Der Ershter Gevorener, Yitzchok Der Ershter Geborener, Yaakov Der Ershter Farlorener" – "Abraham the first one to become [a Jew], Isaac the first one to be born [a Jew], Jacob the first [Jew] to be lost [go into exile]"!

An important principle is Ma'aseh Avos Siman Lebanim – "the deeds of the fathers is a sign for the sons" meaning that what happened to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will also happen to the Children of Israel. And what happened to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Children of Israel in the Torah will be the historical patterns and templates of what will come to be for the Jewish People throughout history. As examples:

1. Abraham and Jacob went down into exile in Egypt and that is what eventually happened to the Children of Israel, they landed up in exile in Egypt. Pharaoh captured Sarah and Abraham had to struggle to set her free, likewise the later Pharaoh held the Children of Israel captive and God had to struggle with him to set them free. Later in history, the Jews would be faced with Shibud Daled Malchuyos (subjugation to Four Kingdoms) and exile at the hands of Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome, down to our own days.

2. Isaac's Mesirus Nefesh ("willingness to give up his life") at Akeidas Yitzchak (Binding of Isaac) when God told Abraham to slaughter Isaac, sets the template for all self-sacrifice by the Children of Israel and the Jewish People who offer up their lives Al Kiddush HaShem (for the Sanctification of God's Name) for thousands of years.

3. Jacob's policy of avoiding defeat at the hands of his hostile brother consisting of Tefila, Doron, Milchama (prayer, gifts, war) meaning that to appease Esau and empires like Rome that descend from Esau, there needs to be a three part policy: praying to God for help, give Esau gifts to bribe him to try to buy him off, and finally if all else fails, prepare to fight and for war. This becomes the policy of the Jews in dealing with Esau's descendants such as Rome and the Christian world: beseech God to save the Jews, try to bribe your way out of trouble if at all possible, and finally if all else fails, fight back.

Each of the forefathers were somehow united and synchronized with God Himself so to speak and expressed His true essence in the world and in the universe::

1. Avraham was the Amud HaChesed (pillar of lovingkindness) and the embodiment of Middas HaRachamim (Attribute of Mercy) and corresponds to God's name and attribute denoted by the name יְהוָה Adonai.

2. Yitzchak was the Amud Ha'avoda (pillar of serving [God]) and the embodiment of Middas HaDin (Attribute of Justice/Judgment) and corresponds to God's name אֱלֹהִים Elohim.

3. Yaakov was the Amud HaEmes (pillar of truth) and embodies the Middas HaEmes (Attribute of Truth) combining both names of God.

All three combined reflect God's presence in the world and constitute both the essence of God and the core foundations of the Jewish People and of the world.

They so to speak embodied in their personas God's own attributes of Chesed, Din, Emes (Mercy/Lovingkindness, Judgment/Justice, Truth).

Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father) embodies the Middas HaChesed (Attribute of Mercy/Lovingkindness). According to the Torah's narrative the world and humanity was in a downhill slide from the time of Adam until the arrival of Abraham on the world's stage. Abraham was subjected to Ten Tests, the last and worst of which was Akeidas Yitzchak (binding of Isaac) when God commands Abraham to offer up his son Isaac as a Korban (sacrifice) something which goes against Abraham's nature but he nevertheless does it because it was commanded by God, but at the last minute God stops Abraham from going through with the slaughter of Isaac. Since Abraham was willing to self-negate himself to the extent of going against his central attribute of Chesed (lovingkindness) God rewards Abraham with an eternal covenant. However, in the Bris Bein HaBesarim (Covenant between the Parts) God reveals to Abraham that his descendants will have to go through the Egyptian Exile as well as the Shibud Daled Malchuyos (subjugation to the Four Kingdoms: [Babylonia, Persia-Media, Greece, Rome]).

The Akeidah (binding [of Isaac]) was a greater test for Avraham than it was for his son Yitzchak since Avaraham had to go against his core attribute of Chesed (lovingkindness) while Yitzchak submitted to his own core attribute of Din (judgment) by accepting his fate on the altar. Both Avraham's and Yitzchak's Mesirus Nefesh (self-sacrifice) stand as eternal merits for the Jewish People until the end of time. While in terms of the Torah's basic meaning God stopped Abraham from killing Isaac as a sacrifice that God had commanded Abraham to do, yet nevertheless on some spiritual level it is regarded as if Isaac had been offered up as a sacrifice and when the Jewish People need Zechuyos (merits) they so to speak plead out to God to see Afaro Shel Yitzchok Mutzav Al Hamizbeach (the ashes of Isaac lying on the altar) to show that both Avraham and Yitzchak were willing to go through with what God had wanted from them.

Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father) was married to Sarah Immeinu (Sarah our Mother) who is barren. Fatefully Sarah gives her handmaiden Hagar as a wife to Abraham and Hagar gives birth to Yishmael. Sarah becomes displeased with Hagar and Yishmael and instructs Abraham to chase away Hagar and Yishmael which Abraham does reluctantly after God tells him to follow Sarah's instructions. This act breeds the subsequent generations' long enmity between the descendants of Yishmael, the Yishmaelites, who are the Arabs and Muslims and the Jews who are the true descendants of Avraham because Sarah gives birth to Yitzchak who is the true descendant of Avraham. Yishmael had a Bris (circumcision) at the time that Avraham was commanded to do so. This earns him merits such as being allotted a time in history when the Land of Israel falls under his control after the Muslims defeated and expelled the Christians who controlled the Holy Land.

Yitzchak Avinu (Isaac our Father) is known as the Amud Ha'avoda (Pillar of Serving [God]). His life is dedicated to serving God fully. He is regarded as an Olah Temima (pure offering) and he embodies the Middas HaDin (Attribute of Judgment). After the Akeida (the binding of Isaac), Yitzchak's own greatest personal test was that he had twin sons one of which was Esav to whom Yitzchak wanted to give his great blessings and not his other son Yaakov. Yitzchak is thwarted by his own wife Rivka who helps Yaakov trick his own father and get the blessings which were due to Esav.

The struggle between Esav and Yaakov which starts from the womb they shared as twins and continues throughout their lives is foretold when Rivka is told by God that "שְׁנֵי גֹיִים בְּבִטְנֵךְ, וּשְׁנֵי לְאֻמִּים, מִמֵּעַיִךְ יִפָּרֵדוּ; וּלְאֹם מִלְאֹם יֶאֱמָץ, וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר": "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your bowels, and one nation will overpower the other nation, and the older one will serve the younger one" (Genesis 25:23). When it says "וּלְאֹם מִלְאֹם יֶאֱמָץ" that "one nation will overpower the other nation" the Torah does not specify which nation shall overpower the "other" nation and from this the oral commentaries derive that it could go either way and that Esav as the progenitor of Edom/Rome and Yaakov as the ancestor of the Children of Israel/the Jewish People will take turns in dominating each other until finally Yaakov's descendants will prevail.

Rav Hutner stressed the principle that Esav (as Rome) and Yaakov (as Israel/Judea) cannot be co-equals on the world's stage because the underlying principle derived from the above verse is that Keshezeh Kam Zeh Nofel (when one rises, the other falls) so that if one hears that Jerusalem has risen and Rome has fallen or that Rome has risen and Jerusalem has fallen then believe it, but if one hears that Jerusalem has risen and Rome has risen or that they have both fallen then do not believe that because only one can be at the top at one time, either Jerusalem meaning the world of the Jews and Torah has risen to the top then it must automatically mean that Rome and its civilization has fallen down and conversely if one hears that Rome has risen to the top then rest assured Jerusalem has fallen.

And so it has been in world history, in fact for the entirety of the last two thousand years Rome, the Roman Empire and then the Roman Catholic Church and the world of Christianity and the Western World have been ascendent while the Jews have been in an almost never ending exile. That is why Jews pray for the end of this last exile that will be brought about by the arrival of the true Jewish Messiah.

Yaakov Avinu (Jacob our Father) is called the Bechir SheBeavos (best of the forefathers) and he embodies the Middas HaEmes (attribute of truth). In addition it is said about him that Yaakov Avinu Mitato Sheleimah (Jacob our father, his bed [meaning children] are complete/perfect). Unlike Abraham who had a son Yishmael and Isaac who had a son Esau, with both Yishmael and Esau being evil, on the other hand of Jacob's twelve sons all are good and righteous.

While the negative by-product of Avraham's attribute of Chesed (lovingkindness) is immorality as symbolized by Yishmael, and the negative by-product of Yitzchak's attribute of Din (judgment) is murder as symbolized by Esav, Yaakov has no negative by-products and produces the Shevatim ([Twelve] Tribes) who are all Shleimim (perfect). Yaakov's twelve sons are so perfect that they correspond to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, or alternatively the Zodiac reflects the perfection of Yaakov's twelve sons.

Yaakov Avinu (Jacob our Father) was also "Der Ershter Farloner" (The first one to go be lost [go into exile]) having to flee from the fratricidal hatred of his brother Esav HaRasha (Esau the Wicked) who wanted to kill his brother Yaakov because Yaakov had stolen the Brochas (Blessings [of the firstborn]) that had been bestowed on him by their father Yitzchak. Yaakov is therefore forced to flee into exile to escape the wrath of his brother Esav who has been bestowed with a different kind of special blessing by Yitzchak that says: "עַל חַרְבְּךָ תִחְיֶה" meaning "you shall live by your sword" (Genesis 27:40) and that is what Yaakov fears.

In fact there is an important principle that is derived by the Jewish sages of the Torah that "Esav Sonei Es Yaakov" – "Esau hates Jacob" which describes and explains the underlying core hatred of Rome and the Christian and Western world who are regarded as Esau's descendants, towards the Jews who are Jacob's descendants.

Jacob flees to be with his mother's brother Lavan who is not just a trickster but is in fact worse than Pharaoh as according to the Passover Haggadah, Pharaoh only wanted to kill all the infant boys of the Children of Israel while Lavan wanted to annihilate everyone. Lavan tricks Yaakov into marrying Leah the sister of Rochel while Yaakov wanted to marry Rochel. Rochel is indeed the true "Akeres HaBayis" (foundation of the home [of the Children of Israel]) but in the end Lavan adds Bilha and Zilpa as well and they all give birth to the twelve Shevatim (Tribes).

How is it that if Yaakov is the PIllar of Truth that he resorts to what seem to be "tricks" to fool his brother Esav in order to get the Blessings for the Birthright and to manipulate Lavan's flocks of animals to increase his own share over that of Lavan's? The answer is that with a Ramai ("trickster") one may act with Rama'os ("trickery") Mida Keneged Mida (measure for measure). This is also a Tikkun (perfecting [the sin]) of the Nachash Hakadmoni (primal serpent [in the Garden of Eden]) who tricked Eve to eat from the Etz Hadaas Tov Vara (Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil).

Whatever happened in the life of Yaakov also happened in the life of his favorite son Yosef, the first born of Yaakov's favorite wife Rochel. Yaakov had a rivalry with his brother who was jealous of him, likewise Yosef had a rivalry with his brothers who were jealous of him. Yaakov was forced to flee into exile because his brother wanted to kill him, likewise Yosef was sold and sent into exile after his brothers wanted to kill him. Yaakov thrived in exile and married over there, likewise Yosef thrived in exile and married over there. Yaakov rose to the top and became very wealthy in his father in law's house, likewise Yosef rose to the top and became wealthy in Pharaoh's house. Yaakov eventually made peace with his brother, likewise Yosef eventually made peace with his brothers.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers College–Columbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach – Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 1988–1995, a Trustee of AJOP 1994–1997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 1995–2015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York.

He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy.

Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at [email protected]