We are in the Torah series titled The Covenant of God – Repentance Series –
In this week’s Torah portion, we look at what it means to rely upon the merit of others. A concept which frequently occurs in the Rabbinic literature is the idea of the merits of the Fathers, which leads us to the question on the importance of the merits of others. According to the Apostolic Writings, we are told to rely upon the merits of the Messiah (Christ, 1 Corinthians 15:22). In Parashat Vayishlach, Jacob calls upon the merit of his fathers Abraham and Isaac to protect himself from destruction by the hand of Esau. (Bereshit / Genesis 32:10-11) In contrast to the rabbinic view that the Patriarchs had a great amount of merit for future generations; the Patriarchs in Genesis are generally not portrayed as righteous, i.e. Jacob is portrayed as a deceiver. The power of these Patriarchal narratives lies within the fact that despite their shortcomings, the Lord God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The rabbinic concept of merits has influenced our understanding of salvation as being found within the covenant of God which causes us to rely upon others due to our own short comings. As a result, the question of “falling away” is of central importance, as it is related to remaining in the covenant of God. The rabbinic concept of relying upon the merits of others may be explained according to the words of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 1:5) which states, “it is good to say the passage about the Akeida.” He explains that the function of repeating a passage of Scripture is “to mention and remind heaven of the merits of the patriarchs.” He further states that this “also inspires us to subdue our base nature, to make it subservient to the Holy One blessed be He, so that we offer our entire being to Him, as Yitzchak did.” The concept here is that Isaac (Yitzchak) offered himself upon the altar (see Bereshit / Genesis 22, Isaac was believed to be old enough to resist his father) which is the source text for the belief in the merit of the Akeida. The Holy One swore an oath to Abraham, as it is written in Bereshit / Genesis 22:16-17, 22:16 and said, ‘By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 22:17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. (NASB) The idea here is related to the matter of the giving of one’s life to sanctify the Name of the Lord. Throughout history, rabbinic halachah has stated regarding selfless behavior, when the people of Israel went to their deaths willingly and happily in order to sanctify the Name of God, there was merit for the kingdom of heaven in the Olam Haba (world to come). This falls under the premise of a Mishnaic principle that servants who work without reward (i.e. who work for their keep) are preferable to those who serve for a reward. (see the Mishnah Pirkei Avot 1:3) This is also the principle that was illustrated in the prodigal Son narrative (Luke 15:19), compare the older son to the younger son and the events when the younger son returns. Coupled with this idea of relying upon the merit of others is whether earning merit is something that is a viable option as a part of our faith? This is illustrated in the laborer being worthy of his wages, as opposed to being given something without laying claim to having done this thing by himself. Relying upon the merits of others leads to the conclusion that it is possible to earn a reward as a result of someone else’s actions. The Scriptures provide us with examples of relying upon the merit of others and not upon our own merits. In the case of Jacob, he had faith in the Lord God Almighty, relying wholly upon the merits of Him who is mighty to save. Do you rely upon Him who is mighty to save? Let’s discuss this topic in this week’s study.
I hope you enjoy this short study.
Take care and God bless!