This week’s Parsha is about Hashem rebuking Bnai Yisrael and their punishment if they do not follow the Torah. Towards the conclusion of the list of laws, Hashem says, “I will remember my covenant with Yaakov and also My covenant with Yitzchak and also My covenant with Avraham I will remember, and I will remember the land” (26:43).
A few obvious questions arise from this Pasuk. First of all, why are the Avot listed in reverse order? Rashi says that when we sin, we ask Hashem to remember Yaakov’s covenant with Hashem. If that is not enough, let Hashem rely on His covenant with Yitzchak, and if that is not enough, refer to Avraham’s covenant. Hashem does not mention remembering in connection with Yitzchak because He sees the “ashes of Yitzchak.” According to the Maharash, this refers either to the ashes of the ram burnt at Akeidat Yitzchak, or to the ashes Avraham pictured of Yitzchak before he was told not to go through with the deed.
The most obvious question is what this Pasuk has to do with the rest of the Sedra. The Magid of Dubno answers in a Mashal (parable). Two people stood in front of a judge and awaited judgment. Both were being tried for robbery. When the judge handed down the punishments, his rulings were very peculiar. One of the men, a thief’s son, was given a short sentence of only a few days in prison and a minute fine. The other man, a wealthy and important man’s child, was given a long prison sentence and a hefty fine.
The judge explained that the son of the thief was a natural; it was in his blood to steal. He could not do anything productive, he had to steal, and, most of all, he could not be changed. That is why the judge gave him a short prison sentence; he would forever remain a thief. On the other hand, the son of the noble man had grown up in a world of morals where his father taught him to be humble and straight. Therefore, the judge levied a huge fine.
This is similar to the case in Sefer Vayikra. Bnai Yisrael are the children of such prominent people as Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Just like the second man in the Mashal, Bnai Yisrael stem from respected personages who raise their children properly. Therefore, the punishment for sins that we do are very severe.
We also see from this Mashal that punishment is not intended as revenge for a crime; rather, it is to correct the sinner and return him to the proper path. By contrast, there is no return for a person who has committed sins all his life. The punishments are bittersweet.