In the Torah portion of Toldos we read of the blessings that Yitzchak bestowed upon his son Yaakov, beginning with the words:1 “And may G-d give you….” Comments the Midrash :2 “May He give you, and May He give you again.”
Man is inherently limited, so his gifts are inherently limited. Even if a person were to give as much as he can, his gift would be limited, and thus he may add to his gift by giving once again.
G-d, however, is truly limitless. Surely, His original gift, emanating as it does from his infinite kindness, is also without limit. What possible need could there be for G-d to give and then give again?
The transmission of knowledge from teacher to student can be achieved in one of two ways: a) the student may understand his master’s teachings, but not thoroughly enough to arrive at novel concepts; b) the disciple may completely master his teacher’s discourse, so that he is able to amplify on these teachings and come up with novel thoughts of his own.
Examples of the above are found in the Mishnah,3 where R. Yochanan ben Zakkai speaks of the qualities of his disciples, comparing R. Eliezer ben Horkenus to “a cemented cistern which does not lose a drop” and R. Elazar ben Arach to a “fountain which flows with ever-increasing strength.”
It is readily apparent that the latter student is superior to the former. Thus Abba Shaul goes on to say in the name of R. Yochanan ben Zakkai: “If all the Sages of Israel, including even Eliezer ben Hurknus, were on one side of a scale, and Elazar ben Arach were on the other, he would outweigh them all.”
The reason for this superiority lies in the fact that even if “not a drop” of knowledge is lost, such a disciple will never have more than he received from his master.
However, a student who “flows with ever-increasing strength” will be able to use his master’s teachings as a springboard to gain ever-increasing amounts of knowledge.
Nevertheless, it goes without saying that even the student who “flows with ever-increasing strength” owes his gains to the teachings of his master. After all, it is upon those teachings that his subsequent knowledge is based. In fact, this ability in his student represents a teacher’s crowning achievement, for the ultimate objective of a teacher is to get his students to think for themselves.
Herein lies the meaning of “May He give you, and May He give you again”: G-d’s blessings are so splendid that not only is the person blessed with unlimited bounty from Above, but he is inspired to make use of these blessings on his own, thereby gaining yet again.
In terms of man’s spiritual service, these two types of students correspond to the righteous individual and the penitent:
The righteous individual follows the path of Torah and mitzvos as they were transmitted from Above, while the penitent, having deviated from the path, transforms iniquity into merit.4 His method of service uses his power of repentance — the arousal of which is also granted to him by G-d5 — to perform an additional measure of service, a service not readily available to the righteous.
Furthermore, just as the student who is likened to “a fountain that flows with ever-increasing strength” is superior to a student who is similar to “a cemented cistern which does not lose a drop,” so too is the service of the penitent superior to the service of the righteous. Our Sages express it thus:6 “On the level that penitents stand, the completely righteous are unable to stand.”
Their superiority is similar to that of the preeminent student: just as he is capable of endlessly increasing his knowledge, so too is the penitent’s manner of service on an infinite level, while the service of the righteous, however excellent, is merely finite. The penitent thus serves in a manner of “May He give you, and May He give you again.”
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. X, pp. 80-83.
Sowing the Physical and Reaping the Spiritual
In the Torah portion Toldos we read7 that “Yitzchak sowed that land, and reaped that year a hundredfold.” The Midrash notes8 that Yitzchak measured the yield in order to tithe his crops.
In Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer ,9 however, we find the following comment: “Can it be that Yitzchak planted grain, Heaven forfend?! Rather, he took a tenth of all his wealth and implanted tzedakah — he distributed it to the poor.”
Why does Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer find it so difficult to imagine Yitzchak planting crops? Commentaries explain10 that since the Patriarchs were shepherds and wandered from place to place, it would have been impractical for any of them to sow seeds, as that requires remaining in one area for a considerable time.
But even if this were so, what is so devastating about the idea of Yitzchak’s planting crops that the expression “Heaven forfend!” is used?
Moreover, we see that according to the Midrash , Yitzchak did indeed plant crops. Even if we were to say that these are two different opinions, they cannot be diametrically opposed.11 How is it possible that according to the Midrash Yitzchak did plant crops, while according to Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer , “Can it be that Yitzchak planted grain, Heaven forfend?! ”
We must perforce say that according to Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer as well, the simple meaning of the verse is that Yitzchak planted crops, for a verse can always be understood in its simple context.12
When Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer states “Can it be that Yitzchak planted grain, Heaven forfend?! Rather, he… implanted tzedakah ” it intends to reveal the inner content and purpose of Yitzchak’s planting:
With regard to the Patriarchs it is stated:13 “The Patriarchs are truly the [Divine] Chariot,14 for all their organs were completely holy and detached from mundane matters. Throughout their lives they served as vehicles for the Divine Will.”
Thus, with regard to our Patriarch Yitzchak, Heaven forfend that the ultimate purpose of his planting was merely to raise crops. Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer therefore states that although Yitzchak’s physical actions were surely those of planting crops, his inner purpose was to tithe the harvest and distribute tzedakah.
Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer , however, does not pose its question concerning the Patriarchs’ chief physical occupation; it never asks “Were the Patriarchs shepherds, Heaven forfend?!” They chose to become shepherds for the very fact that shepherding is not taxing, and they were thus able to concentrate on their service to G-d.15
Farming, however, is both physically and mentally taxing, something that in itself inhibits divine service. It is thus necessary to inform us that Yitzchak’s labor was not, Heaven forfend, one of simple farming, but a preparation for the mitzvah of tithing, since tithes must be given from one’s own crops.16 Yitzchak’s planting was thus not one of “planting grain” but truly that of “implanting tzedakah.”
Yitzchak’s physical planting of crops may indeed be linked to the statement in the Mishnah17 that if one carries out food on Shabbos in a vessel holding less than the amount necessary to incur guilt for carrying from a private domain to a public domain, he is then not only guiltless of carrying the food, but is also guiltless of carrying the vessel; since the vessel is wholly subordinate to the food it holds, it is considered as if he did not carry it at all.
Yitzchak’s physical planting, too, was so subordinated to the spiritual goal of tzedakah that he did not “plant grain,” rather he “implanted tzedakah ” — throughout their lives, the Patriarchs served as “vehicles for the Divine Will.”
Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. V, pp. 68-74.
1. Bereishis 27:28.
2. Bereishis Rabbah 66:3.
3. Avos 2:9 (according to the Alter Rebbe’s version in his Siddur).
4. Yoma 86b; see also Tanya ch. 7.
5. See Chagigah 15a; Berachos 3a; Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar 6c.
6. See Berachos 34b.
7. Bereishis 26:12.
8. Bereishis Rabbah 64:6.
9. Beginning of ch. 33.
10. Biur HaRadal ibid.
11. Tosfos, Beitza 13a. See also Darkei Shalom, Klalei HaShas, Klal 415.
12. Shabbos 63a.
13. Tanya ch. 23.
14. Bereishis Rabbah 47:6; 82:6.
15. See Toras Chayim, Vayechi 102b.
16. Rambam , Hilchos Ma’asar 2:2.
17. Shabbos 93b.