In the midst of the devastating tochacha, Hashem comforts us, saying: “And I will remember My covenant with Yaakov, and even my covenant with Yitzchak and I will even remember my covenant with Avraham..” The obvious question here is, why were the Avos mentioned in reverse order? Rashi, quoting the Toras Kohanim explains that the merit of Yaakov, who is the ‘smallest’ of the Avos should suffice, but if it does not, then Yitzchak’s merit should hopefully suffice, and if that is not enough, then Avraham’s great merit will surely be sufficient - thus, Yaakov is mentioned first because the Avos are mentioned in ascending order of merit. There are two ways in which we can understand the meaning of Yaakov being the ‘smallest’ of the Avos: Some translate it to mean the ‘youngest’, but a number of commentaries write that it means he is the lowest in the spiritual sense. The problem with this explanation is that Chazal tell us that Yaakov was the greatest of the Avos, the only one whose progeny was completely righteous, whereas Avraham and Yitzchak had descendants who would not merit to be part of the Jewish people. Accordingly, how can we understand that Yaakov’s merit in redeeming the Jewish people from their suffering is weaker than those of Avraham and Yitzchak? It also needs to be explained why Avraham is considered greater than Yitzchak in this context.
It seems that the fact that Yaakov may have been the most perfect of the Avos in terms of midos, does not necessarily mean that he had the greatest merit. Merit is derived from achievement in relation to the difficulty of one’s task - it is possible to argue that whilst Yaakov reached the highest level of the Avos, he did in fact have an easier task than his great predecessors. In what way was Yaakov’s task easier than that of Yitzchak and that of Yitzchak easier than Avraham’s? Avraham was born into a world of Avoda Zara - his great challenge was to create from nothing a whole new outlook and way of life - to begin a new epoch in history. To do such a thing constituted an incredible test, because it meant that he had to fight against all the prevalent attitudes and lifestyles and begin something on a very lowly scale and slowly and patiently develop it. Yitzchak was born into a world in which the new outlook had already been created - he did not need to mechadesh any novel life approach. However, Rav Mattisyahu Salamon Shlita writes that he did have to be mechadesh one thing - the concept of mesorah; that a son faithfully follows the guidelines set by his father. Yaakov, in contrast, did not have to begin a new religion or the concept of Mesorah - he clearly faced great challenges in his life but in this regard he seems to have had an easier task than his forebears. Thus, although Yaakov was the greatest of the Avos, his merit in redeeming the people from suffering is less.
Rav Salamon speaks at length about out how one of Avraham Avinu’s main strengths was his power of hischadshus - his ability to innovate. He notes that in the Rambam’s description of Avraham’s contribution to the world it he uses the word, ‘maschil’ no less than five times in quick succession. Rav Salamon writes that “Avraham was a ‘mashcil’, a person who began things. He was a revolutionary, a pioneer… He was the originator and founder of the Jewish people. Avraham was the first in everything he did. He had no father that he could follow, and thus, he was always breaking new ground.”
When trying to emulate Avraham we traditionally strive to learn from his great mida of chesed. We learn from here that his ‘koyach hahischadhus’, his ability at initiating, is also a mida that needs to be developed.
The Cli Yakar also places great emphasis on the greatness of hischadshus. In Bereishis, the account of every day of the seven days of creation the Torah concludes with a description that it was ’good’ or ’very good’ with the exception of the second day. A number of explanations are given as to this anomaly - the Cli Yakar writes that nothing completely new was created on the second day, therefore, it cannot be described as ‘tov’. It is apparent from this interpretation that something is described as good when it is associated with newness.
There are a number of ways in which the ability to innovate is important in our lives. It is natural for a person to get into a habit of how he conducts his life, with regard to many aspects of his life, including his growth in Torah and midos, his relationships, and his ability to create and build. There are times when it is beneficial to step back and assess whether there is a necessity for a new approach in these areas. New approaches often provide alternative ways of dealing with situations and can meet with great success. An example of this is told over by a leading educator in the area of Shalom Bayis. There was a woman who was highly dissatisfied with her husband’s behavior and eventually decided that she wanted a divorce. This educator suggested to her, that before she take such a drastic step, she should try a new approach - she should focus completely on her own behavior and strive to be as good a wife as possible. Within a very short time of following this instruction, she saw a drastic change in her husband. Her willingness to try a new approach was the key to a huge improvement in her marriage.
One of the most important areas in which the ‘koyach hahischadshus’ is so important is the creation and development of new ideas, movements, or organizations that can provide great benefit for Klal Yisroel. A tremendous example of this is that of Sara Shenirer zt”l - her idea of a Torah oriented educational structure was so revolutionary that it met with great opposition. Nonetheless, she had the vision and persistence to continue with her innovative idea and in doing so, had an incredible effect on the Jewish people.
Another proof that new beginnings can be very beneficial is that the yetser hara makes it very difficult to push through with a new start, which is the reasoning behind the concept that ‘kol hashchalos kashos’ - all beginnings are difficult. As well as taking on a new approach, it is essential to be willing to see it through to the end despite the challenges that one may face in the process.
Avraham Avinu may not be described as the ’greatest’ of the Avos, but in the area of hischadshus he certainly leads the way. May we all be zocheh to learn form him and make successful new beginnings when they are called for.