The Targum Yonason (perek 22:1) tells us that there was a discussion between Yitzchak and Yishmael regarding who had the right to inherit their father Avraham.
Yitzchak claimed “I am the son of Sarah, so I should inherit.”
Yishmael replied “I was 13 when I had my bris milah, and I was old enough that I could have protested—yet I didn’t. You had yours at 8 days of age, when you could not protest, and if you had your bris at 13 you probably would not have allowed it. Therefore, I have the right to inherit our father .”
Yitzchak replied “I have even more ability to protest because I am 36 years old now, yet if Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu asked me to kill myself right now, I would do so.”
Obviously these words of Chazal need explanation. It seems in order to inherit Avraham Avinu, both men understood that they needed a particular quality, and their discussion centered around who had the proper credentials to inherit their father. Reb Michal Feinstein explains that Yishmael understood that the one who would continue the legacy of Avraham Avinu must have the mida of “mesiras nefesh,” and therefore, since Yishmael showed his mesiras nefesh by willingly allowing Avraham to perform a milah on him at the age of 13, he was deserving to inherit his father. To this Yitzchak replied that he was now a full grown man and was willing to put his life on the line for the service of Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu. At this point Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu heard Yitzchak and decided to put him to the test.
It seems that though Yitzchak was sincere in his claim that he was willing to give up his life for Hashem, that verbal claim was not sufficient. It had to be that he was actually in such a situation.
Many times we claim “I am a baal chesed. I am willing to help. Just the opportunity does not arise, and no one ever needs my help. But if the opportunity arose, you would see how I was unbelievably connected to Hashem to the point of mesiras nefesh” for chesed. Yet Rabbi Feinstein explains that this medrash shows us that it is not enough to have “potential.” We must actualize our potential.
Last week we started a program to actualize our potential in showing that being a “baal chesed” is spontaneous and natural, for it is part of who we are. Let us continue to fight Yishmael in the war of terror around us, not by claiming that we are “baalei chasadim” but by actually doing those acts of chesed which naturally brand us as “baalei chesed.”