Mesorah Matters by Zvi Kaminetzky


This week’s Parashah opens with the immediate aftermath of Akeidat Yitzchak. When reading the Pesukim detailing the death of Sarah, Avraham’s acquisition of the Ma’arat HaMachpeilah, and the burial of Sarah, there is someone whose presence is conspicuously absent: Yitzchak. Chazal note his absence and explain that immediately after the Akeidah, Yitzchak went to the Yeshivah of Sheim and Eiver and studied there for a number of years.

My grandfather, Rav Eliezer Kaminetzky, posed the following question: Yitzchak lived in Avraham’s home, the home of the first “Jew,” the home of the person who discovered God on his own and founded our nation/religion. This was a home infused with Chesed, a home where, according to Chazal, all the Mitzvot were kept, even Eiruv Tavshilin. In what studies could Yitzchak have possibly been involved at the Yeshivah of Sheim and Eiver that he could not do in the home of Avraham Avinu?

Rambam, in the first Perek of Hilchot Avodat Kochavim in the Mishneh Torah, explains that Avoda Zarah began in the time of Enosh as a seemingly innocuous, perhaps even commendable, modality of worship of God, and that it quickly devolved into the sinister idolatry we know, with no connection to HaKadosh Baruch Hu whatsoever. Rambam notes that this corrupt institution of Avodah Zarah expanded and continued until the time of Avraham Avinu. Avraham Avinu, who, according to Rambam, was himself an idol worshipper, rediscovered God on his own through investigation, logic, and inference. While Avraham made this discovery on his own, Rambam does note that there were always unique individuals, “Yechidim SheBaOlam,” who never joined in the Avodah Zarah enterprise and had an unbroken Mesorah from Adam HaRishon of belief in and service of Hashem. According to Rambam, these individuals included Chanoch, Metushelach, Noach, Sheim, and Eiver.

Based on this Rambam, I would like to suggest an answer to my grandfather’s question. A Jew requires two educational components. He needs both an ability to use investigation, logic, and inference – “Pilpul” – to arrive at the truth, and a strong Mesorah. Torah Judaism could not survive nor thrive without each of these components. Pilpul that is not anchored and rooted in Mesorah can quickly lead a person astray. Mesorah independent of Pilpul can turn the beautiful multi-faceted Torah into an inscrutable rulebook of do’s and don'ts. While Avraham Avinu – who discovered God through his own logic – could provide Yitzchak with the paradigm of Pilpul, Avraham had no Mesorah to pass on to Yitzchak. It is this Mesorah that Yitzchak sought in the Yeshiva of Sheim and Eiver, even at the cost of leaving his widowed father.

A Brief History of Ma’arat HaMachpeilah by Aryeh Krischer

From Generation to Generation by Alex Feldman