Hebraic Studies - Parashat Toldos

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Parashat Toldos

Bereshit - Genesis 25:19 to 28:9.


With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

“And these are the generations of Yitzchak - Isaac, Avraham’s son: Avraham begot Yitzchak - Isaac” Bereshit - Genesis 25:19 (JPS version of the Torah).

For the past three weeks, the main character in each Parsha has been Avraham, however this week, Yitzchak comes on stage but his appearance is rather mysterious. Our first exposure to Yitzchak’s world is framed by his being the son of Avraham. Both Avraham and Sara had their names changed and names in the book of Bereshit and they are for the best, as they represent the essence of the person or place for which they are named.

We should understand that the Hebrew letter “He” - - “h” was added to ’s “Avram’s” name by the Almighty later in his life. In fact it was not added until chapter 17; verse 5, where the  was added and then ’s - “Avram” then became – “Avraham”, which means the “father of many.”

Sarai became “Sara”, meaning “princess”. But Isaac has only one name and it has nothing to do with his life or life’s mission. The name means he will laugh because Abraham laughed when he heard he would have a son at 99 years old. Another anomaly in - Yitzchak - Isaac’s life is that unlike the other two Patriarchs, there’s no epic drama to which he is the active participant, no dreams, angels, wars, prophecies, no face offs with evil people or a unique approach for handling them. His life seems extremely uneventful. Who is this mysterious Patriarch?

When the story finally focuses on Yitzchak - Isaac, we are once again baffled.

“And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Avraham. And Yitzchak went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto GerarBereshit - Genesis 26:1 (JPS).

He has the challenge of a famine but even then, it wasn’t his unique challenge because it was like the one that had been in the days of Avraham and therefore it was just a sequel to Avraham’s famine.

“And Abimelech said unto Isaac: 'Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we” Verse 16.

Thus the king wanted to get rid of him and offers no help, but Yitzchak has to find food and make sure the locals would not abuse his wife. Thus what does he do? Well he follows the same strategy as his father. One might ask, why is he not doing something original? After that incident, there is a dispute over (water) the wells.

“And Yitzchak digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Avraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Avraham; and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them” Verse 18.

Thus instead of digging his own new wells he simply digs up the wells that his father had dug in the past and then he gave them names like the names that his father had given them originally. They then departed and headed Beersheba.

Finally, Elohim, blessed be He, speaks to Yitzchak, and this is his only direct communication with Elohim, but even then, the revelation is actually connected to Avraham.

“And appeared unto him the same night, and said: 'I am the Elohim of Avraham thy father. Fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for My servant Avraham's sake. And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of , and pitched his tent there; and there Yitzchak’s servants digged a well” Bereshit - Genesis 26:24-25 (JPS).

In other words what was said is, everything you will receive is “because of Avraham my servant.” You may walk away from this Parsha thinking, where is Yitzchak, the vanishing Patriarch? We know of three Patriarchs but it seems that Yitzchak has no special name, no role, no transition, there is nothing epic, no real drama.

Who is Yitzchak really and what was his role? I will come to that!

Avraham was a revolutionary. For he lived with the new concept of ethical monotheism that was threatening the prevailing pagan culture. He fought to teach it, prayed for the people he opposed, and carved a path that literally changed the world. But Yitzchak realized that his task was not to be a revolutionary, it was to ensure that Abraham and Sara’s teachings would endure. It takes a lot of strength not to be a revolutionary because revolutions are always enchanting and exciting. Radical transformation and creating a utopia are buzz words of revolution. It’s exciting to breath the fresh air of change, break apart the existing institutions and create new ones, and see yourself as a pioneer.

But sometimes it takes a lot more inner strength to lead a “boring” life without constant change. It means leading a life where you live ideas consistently and avoid the sweet toxin of change if it doesn’t conform to your values. This type of life will need deeper conviction and self-discipline.

Without Yitzchak, we would have neither the book of Genesis nor the system of values we Jews have lived by for thousands of years and have imparted to large parts of the globe. Avraham introduced many bold ideas but now they had to trickle down to his family and students; they had to live them. Yitzchak doesn’t need to lead a life of drama, travel, angels, name changes, or even dig his own wells. His task is to entrench, solidify, and consolidate what his father had begun and that’s his glory and heroism. It’s no coincidence that the character trait associated with him is strength and power.

- Yitzchak’s life is a template for us at certain times in our lives. Each of us should have an Avraham stage, where we flexing our muscles, learning to spread our wings, develop an individual identity, and find out who am I?

At a certain point, however, you have to transition and solidify the ideas by which you choose to live and not always on the run, travelling and looking for new experiences. Rather, having a successful marriage and family takes a different set of strengths. Those who don’t want to become adults are afraid of boredom and losing their freedom because it takes great discipline and inner strength to repeat your steps every day and follow a routine that grants you the peace of mind that comes from doing the right thing, even if it’s not the exciting thing. Going to work every day, changing diapers, carpooling and other mundane activities might not seem exciting at a certain point in life. But caring for others and accepting responsibility for their wellbeing is an inner pleasure that comes only from such unexciting activities. Being an adult might not have the sizzling bright lights of constant excitement, but those stimulants don’t naturally lend themselves to a stable life of responsibility.  

There’s a time to be an Avraham but when the time comes, may we all find the Yitzchak’s within us to learn, cultivate, and nurture the person we need to be, faithful, steady and solid in everything!

Always remember our motto seen on the logo at the top of this page: “The More Torah, the More Life”, for Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, is the one who gave us our Life!”

Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.


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