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Why are the forefathers (Avos) mentioned in the wrong order?

Written by Benjamin Rose

“I will remember My covenant with Yaakov and also My covenant with Yitzchak, and also My covenant with Avraham will I remember; and I will remember the land” (VaYikra 26:42).

An interesting question regarding the above verse is why are the forefathers listed in reverse order: Yaakov, Yitzchak and Avraham?

Earlier in the Torah (Shemot 32:13) we read about Moshe’s prayer to God after the Israelites had sinned with the golden calf: “Remember Avraham, Yitzchak and Yisrael (Yaakov) Your servants with whom You made an oath … “. Rashi comments: “If the Israelites deserve to be burned, remember Avraham who gave himself to be burned for You in Ur (the fire of) Casdim [Bereishit 11:28; if they merit death by the sword, remember Yitzchak who stretched forth his neck at the Akeidah (Binding of Isaac) [Bereishit 22:9]; and if the Israelites deserve to be exiled, then remember Yaakov who was exiled to CHaran [Bereishit 27:43]”.

Rabbi Simchah HaKohen Rapoport uses this interpretation of Rashi to explain that since exile is the lightest of these three punishments and death by burning the most severe, our verse in BeCHukotai begins with Yaakov and ends with Avraham. The meaning is therefore: If the Jewish People deserve the punishment of exile, then “I will remember My covenant with Yaakov”; but if God deems the Jewish People worthy of the more severe penalty of death by the sword, then “also My covenant with Yitzchak”; and if death by burning is appropriate, then “also My covenant with Avraham will I remember”.

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