The Foundation Stone Haggadah: Yachatz
What do we do in Yachatz? We take the Matza and we break it down the middle. Which Matza do we break? – The middle Matza. If we say that the top Matza is Abraham and the bottom Matza is Jacob, then the middle Matza is Isaac. Chazal say that it was in the merit of Isaac that we were redeemed from Egypt. There are two reasons for this
The first reason we find at a Brit Milah. When we mention Isaac’s name, we don’t say Yitzchak, but Yischak. Chazal say that Isaac said, “Listen, they’ve suffered enough. They have been in Egypt for 210 years. Let me handle it. Whatever’s left over, let me handle.” So instead of spelling Yitzchak with the letter tzadi, which has the Gematria of 90, we read his name as Yischak, with the letter sin, which has the Gematria of 300. The difference, of course, is 210.
The second reason we find in the Midrash. The Midrash relates that Isaac’s merit saved the Jews at the destruction of the first Temple. As the Midrash goes, God is very angry. God wants to speak to someone to calm Him down. So He speaks to the Zeyde – Abraham. God says, “Abraham, I’m so angry. Look at what they’ve done! The Jew’s have done this, this, and that.” Abraham looks down and see that indeed it is so. Abraham responds to God, “They’re not my kids!”
So God says, “I should talk to the kid.” So God goes to Jacob and says, “I’m so angry with your children.” “Why are you so angry?” asks Jacob. Says God, “Look at what they’ve done!” “My God,” says Jacob, “they’re not my children! Wipe them out!” God says, “I will go to the father, Isaac.”
God says to Isaac, “Yitz, I’m very angry at the Jewish people!” Isaac responds, “What are you angry for? So they did a lot of bad things? Let’s figure out this thing. How long does a person live, on the average? – about seventy years. OK. You can’t count anything a person does before the age of twenty because You don’t punish anyone before that. How many years do you have left? – fifty. A person has to sleep a third of the time, so how much do you have left? – about thirty-five, maybe a bit less. A person’s got to eat! He’s got to go to work! A person’s got to go to the bathroom! And, if he reads in the bathroom, it’s going to be a little more! So what are you left with? Nothing! So what’s Your problem? You take half of their sins, and I’ll take the other half. There’s no need to be angry. Listen, if You can’t handle the whole deal, I’ll handle it. It’s OK!”
What a crazy story! What’s the Midrash saying? The meaning of the story is this: Isaac is saying to God, “Listen, from the perspective of Judgement, does anything in the world make sense? Admit it, if this were a world in which there was a specific structure, and everything could be seen in black and white, then I could understand. But that’s not how the world lives.”
We usually think of din, or judgement as being very strict or harsh. But actually, din is one of the greatest kindnesses God can do for us. In fact, it is actually an expression of chesed. Why is this? Because again, what did we say about choice? – that choices matter. They matter because of din. Why does God judge us? Because what we do matters. If God didn’t judge us, what we did wouldn’t matter. So din is the greatest chesed. It is the gift of free choice.
Isaac knows how to balance the harshness of judgement with the softness of chesed. Since judgment exists only because of chesed, the judgement has to be used as a tool of chesed and not as something destructive. Isaac has two sons – Jacob and Esau. Jacob is the soft, studious one and Esau is a monster. Esau represents real judgement. Seeing this, Isaac understands the difference. Moreover, Isaac is the father of Jacob, whose attribute is balance, or Tiferet. The only way the Jews are going to survive Egypt is if they can preserve their sense of balance. Things will look bad, but understanding that while things look bleak, this is actually a point of hope that things will work themselves out.
It has to be Jacob who takes the Jews down to Egypt in the first place. And where does Jacob develop his sense of balance? – Isaac. Isaac knows how to balance both types of judgement. That’s why we break the middle Matza in half.