If A Person Merits It, His Work Will Be Performed by Others
On the verse, “And Isaac sowed in that land, and found in the same year a hundredfold; and the L-RD blessed him” (Genesis 26:12), the holy Rabbi Yitzchak Zelig Morgenstern of Sokolov-Kotzk writes amazing things in his book She’erit Yitzchak, statements that we shall cite at length because we value them greatly:
“The Torah attributes the act of sowing to Isaac, yet it is certain that Isaac, who was sanctified as a consecrated offering (Bereshith Rabba 64:3), did not perform mundane work himself, much like it is forbidden for an consecrated animal to perform any labor. Others did this work for him. In addition, Isaac – who had left the category of the children of Noah – had servants who were all gentiles. ‘A gentile cannot be appointed as the emissary of a Jew, so what he does cannot be attributed to a Jew’ (Bava Metzia 71b). Concerning the wells, it is once stated, ‘Isaac dug anew the wells’ (Genesis 26:18), and then it is stated, ‘Isaac’s servants dug’ (v.19). We must therefore explain why this act was once attributed to Isaac and once to his servants.
“This allows us to corroborate the view of the Mahane Ephraim (Halachot Sheluchin 31), who stipulates that a worker, even a gentile, can act in the name of his master. The Shaar Hamelech, in the Halachot Trumot, disagrees with him, advancing the view that if ‘Isaac converted people’ (Bereshith Rabba 84:2), they had the status of Jews, which enables the deeds they performed to be attributed to the person who sent them. Whenever work is attributed to Isaac, we must realize that it means he had servants who performed this work in his name. Yet in these verses we still need to understand why this work is once described as having been done by his servants, and once as being done by himself.
“Besides this, we must stress that those who converted to Judaism during the time of the Patriarchs (before the Torah was given), even though they are called ‘converted,’ they retained their status as children of Noah with respect to the possibility of being sent as envoys. This is because we find nowhere in the words of our Sages that these converts lost their status as gentiles, excluding the Patriarchs themselves (Moreinu HaRav Yaffe, Genesis 16:9, Vayigash 93:5). As for those who believe that even the Patriarchs did not lose their status as children of Noah (as Ramban cites the French Sages in his commentary on Leviticus 24:10), this does not resolve our case (whether gentiles can be named as envoys), and the question again becomes why their work was attributed to Isaac.”
Rashi states, “Whoever studies Torah and submits to the will of G-d has the merit of seeing his work performed by others” (Berachot 35b). In addition, the one who studies Torah is himself like an offering (see Zohar III:80b), as it is written: “When a man among you brings an offering” (Leviticus 1:2). (Note: In Hebrew this may be read as, “If a man among you brings himself as an offering”). If it is stated that he himself is an offering, it follows that it is forbidden for him to do any work. If he devotes himself to Torah, he will have the merit of seeing his work performed by others, as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said.
Afterwards it is written, “And Isaac sowed in that land, and found in the same year a hundredfold; and the L-RD blessed him” (Genesis 26:12). Should it not have stated that he had an abundant harvest after having been blessed? Certainly the idea here is that of a spiritual harvest, meaning that the observance of the commandments and the study of Torah are everyone’s seeds in this world, as it is written: “Of the one who studies, it is said that he sows” (Sanhedrin 99a). We find the same analogy concerning acts of kindness and obedience to the commandments, as it is written: “Sow for yourselves righteousness and you will reap according to kindness” (Hosea 10:12). The Sages explain this to mean: “That which we acquire is proportional to the effort invested” (Bava Kama 17a). Similarly, the 100 blessings that we must all recite each day (Menachot 43b) allude to meah shearim – a harvest 100 times more abundant than normal. This is because “each blessing has its measure” (see Zohar III:271a), and it was in this way that Isaac grew (Genesis 26:13) and progressed “from strength to strength” (Psalms 84:8) in Torah and the fear of G-d.
Isaac’s life consisted of trials. He was sanctified by the holiness of a sacrifice presented on the altar, which obligated him to refrain from all mundane work. In fact his holiness was greater than that of a Nazir, of whom it is written: “From new or aged wine shall he abstain, and he shall not drink vinegar of wine or vinegar of aged wine; anything in which grapes have been steeped shall he not drink, and fresh and dried grapes shall he not eat” (Numbers 6:3), whereas all work was forbidden to Isaac. This constituted a tremendous trial for him, for he had a great amount of work to perform and many possessions to oversee, as it is written: “He had acquired flocks and herds and many enterprises” (Genesis 26:14).
Isaac’s work was performed through the intervention of angels who acted in his name and as his proxies. It is written, “Isaac dug anew the wells of water” (v.18) because the angels that came to do his work were like him in the sense of the expression, “The one sent is like the one who sent him” (Berachot 34b); he is like him in every way. This is why everyone thought that Isaac himself dugs the wells, whereas in fact his angels had done so. This is because Isaac himself resembled an angel, for at the time of the Akeidah his soul departed and was rendered back to him with even greater spiritual standing (Zohar I:60a), as the Arizal explains. This is also why Isaac possessed the attribute of power (Zohar III:302a), for it is not easy for a celestial being to live in this lower world, as it is written concerning the “sons of G-d” (Genesis 6:2) who sinned in this world (Zohar III:208a). However Isaac surpassed them, and even in this lower world he managed to elevate himself.
The Torah states, “Isaac’s servants dug” (Genesis 26:19), which indicates that because of the merit of the Torah that he had acquired during his life, all the created beings of this world put themselves at his disposal and acted according to his will, to the extent that his work was done by itself, without it being necessary for Isaac himself to intervene.
We learn a fundamental principle from here. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai teaches that if someone has in fact the merit of occupying himself with sacred things – to cling to Torah and be filled with the fear of G-d – then his work will certainly be done by others, even by angels. We know that “the performance of a commandment creates a good angel who fully resembles the one who carried out the commandment” (Zohar Ruth 92a), which is his envoy. Rabbi Yishmael is not of this opinion, for “many people acted like Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, yet they were not as successful as him” (Berachot 35b). According to Rabbi Yishmael, someone who works a great deal (who wants to behave like everyone else, so as not to benefit from the Torah) loses his dignity, for all men are considered as an offering, as it is written: “When a man among you brings [himself as] an offering” (Leviticus 1:2). How can we both study Torah and work if we are considered to be as holy as sacrifices presented on the altar? Concerning the angel Michael, the Sages said: “He sacrifices the souls of Israel – the righteous – on the altar” (Menachot 110a), which clearly shows that they are considered as sacrifices. Would it be forbidden for them to do any work, since work is forbidden for an animal offered as a sacrifice? Is it really impossible to join Torah study to work? This is why Rabbi Yishmael believed that a person must apply himself to Torah study with fervor and thus attempt to become the pure sacrifice that the angel Michael presents on the altar to G-d. All the angels will thus be the envoys of those who attain the degree of Isaac’s sanctity. Every Jew should strive to become like Isaac, for “the acts of the fathers are a sign for their children” (Sotah 34a).