Parashat Vayera: We Never Lose by Following G-d’s Will
In the beginning of Parashat Vayera, we read of the angels who visited Abraham Abinu and informed him that his wife, Sara, would conceive and beget a son. The angel who spoke to Abraham said, "Shob Ashub Elecha…Ve’hineh Ben Le’Sara Ishtecha" – "I will return to you…and behold, your wife, Sara will have a son" (18:10).
The Or Ha’haim (Rav Haim Ben-Attar, 1696-1743) observes that the expression "Shob Ashub" ("I shall return") seems unnecessarily redundant, repeating two forms of the word "return." Why did the angel not simply say, "Ashub" – that he would return when Sara begets a child?
The Or Ha’haim explains based on the Kabbalistic concept that there are two different kinds of Neshamot (souls) – a male Neshama, and a female Neshama. Yishak, Sara’s son, was born with a female Neshama. Whereas normally, of course, males are born with male souls and females are born with female souls, Yishak was an exception, and he initially came into the world with a female Neshama. As such, Or Ha’haim writes, Yishak was unable to produce children, as only a man with a man’s soul is capable of impregnating a woman to produce offspring. At a later point, however, Yishak’s Neshama changed to a male soul, thus enabling him to reproduce.
The Or Ha’haim writes that this change occurred at the time of Akedat Yishak, when Yishak was bound upon the altar and prepared as a sacrifice. As we read toward the end of Parashat Vayera, G-d tested Abraham by commanding him to offer his beloved son as a sacrifice, and Abraham complied, until an angel called out to him just before he slaughtered Yishak, instructing him not to slaughter his son, as this was merely a test. The Or Ha’haim writes that this angel was the angel who had informed Abraham that Sara would conceive. He had promised, "Shob Ashub" – that he would return twice: when Yishak is born, and then again was Yishak is "reborn," receiving a male Neshama.
The Or Ha’haim adds that this explains why the story of Akedat Yishak is followed by the brief listing of the offspring of Abraham’s brother, Nahor (22:20-24). Already Rashi (22:20) comments that this section appears here to inform us of the birth of Nahor’s granddaughter, Ribka, who would, of course, marry Yishak. Or Ha’haim develops this point further, explaining that now that Yishak received a male Neshama, he was able to reproduce, and thus the time came for him to marry. As it was the experience of Akedat Yishak that allowed Yishak to beget children, the story of the Akeda is followed by the birth of Ribka, with whom Yishak would produce offspring.
This insight of the Or Ha’haim teaches us that we never lose by fulfilling G-d’s will, even when it appears that we do. At the time of Akedat Yishak, as Abraham prepared to sacrifice Yishak, it seemed that he would have no future, as his only son was now being killed. It appeared that his dreams of producing a large nation of devoted servants of G-d would never be realized. As it turned out, however, the exact opposite was true. It was precisely because of Akedat Yishak that Yishak was given the ability to produce children. If not for this experience, he would never have been able to father children, and thus Am Yisrael would never have come into existence. While Akedat Yishak at first appeared to spell the end of Abraham’s hopes of producing Am Yisrael, it turned out to be the very event which facilitated the emergence of Am Yisrael.
We should never be deterred from fulfilling Hashem’s will because of considerations like financial costs or inconvenience. Even when it seems as though we are losing because of Misva observance, we are, in fact, gaining far more than we could ever imagine.