|This parsha is the only portion dedicated to the life of Isaac. In the Torah there are 3 portions dedicated to the life of Abraham, 6 portions dedicated to the lives of Jacob and his sons, but only 1 portion dealing with Isaac’s life. Because of this, it is easy to skip over the life of Isaac and move on to more exciting Biblical accounts. For me, this brings up the question: What was the life of Isaac about? This whole portion is about Isaac doing tedious, blue-collar labor while raising children. Isaac never even left the Promised Land as compared to his father and his sons who did. Sounds like a pretty average life. It is within my last sentence wherein lies the greatness of Isaac. This portion begins with the words “This is the genealogy of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham begot Isaac.” Why does this portion repeat the fact that Isaac is the son of Abraham? Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt’l writes, “The opening of Genesis 21 speaks of the birth of Isaac to Sarah…in Genesis 20, we are told that Sarah was taken into the harem of Avimelekh, king of Gerar…the speculation of the sages [is] that gossips were suggesting Abraham was infertile…Hence the double emphasis…not only was Abraham Isaac’s father but also everyone could see this because father and son looked exactly alike.”|
|According to the sages, Isaac was an exact look-alike of his father Abraham. Even if the idea of the first recorded doppelganger in history may feel like a stretch, when we read about Isaac’s life, it mirrors the life of his father to a “t.” –His wife is barren, he lies about his wife, he prospers in the land, he re-digs his father’s wells, and he makes a covenant with Avimelech, king of Gerar—All these incidents are an exact retelling from the life of his father Abraham. What made Isaac great was his normality. Isaac understood the importance of following in the footsteps of a Godly heritage. Why reinvent the wheel?|
Isaac recognized the fact that using someone else’s invention of round wheels can take you further than your own invention of triangle wheels could ever go. Isaac was following in the footsteps of his father, and more often than not, this is harder than carving out one’s own trail. In today’s world there are many books, podcasts, seminars and courses on how to become a great leader. However, when do we read about Moses asking for the leadership section in the Egyptian archives? Did Joshua go to the “Warriors Leadership Summit?” Or did King David listen to the latest CEO tips podcast?
In each of these men’s stories, they had a calling and with the guidance of those around them, made a difference for God. But how many people in the days of Moses, Joshua, or David were called to be leaders? Not everyone can be a leader. Otherwise, you end up with the place of the nation of Israel was in, as it says in Judges 21:26, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Isaac taught the world how to be a follower. It wasn’t his calling, dream, or vision per say. God had called his father, why did Isaac have to be faithful to his father’s “fantasies?” Why fight his father’s fight? Isaac had to choose to follow in his father’s footsteps; and this is why it is harder to follow in someone else’s tracks. It is hard to take someone else’s vision and make the problems, difficulties and challenges one’s own vision as well. Weathering out the storm, holding onto one’s own waterlogged vision is a lot easier as compared to holding onto someone else’s calling when the wave comes down. Yet, despite all the difficulties, Isaac was faithful. Rabbi David Fohrman poses the question “What is the challenge of the child of a great innovator? Often, to carry the innovation to the next generation.” Most people want to be innovators and inventors, bringing revolutionary change to the planet, but who wants to be (as Rabbi Fohrman puts it) “a consolidator?”
Here is the definition of “Consolidate” according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition. Consolidate: “To unite into one system. To make strong or secure; strengthen. To make firm or coherent.” Isaac brought clarifying unity to his father’s ideas, strengthening and bringing coherence to them. Isaac kept his father Abraham’s vision alive. Abraham’s entire vision rested on one son, and fortunately for him, and for us all, Isaac faithfully followed through. In the words of Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, “Avraham came into a world full of people who were on the wrong track. He searched deeply and eventually discovered truth. Avraham’s path was new. He was a trailblazer. Yitzock (Isaac), however, grew up on a path that had already been forged, an ‘old’ path. Nevertheless, he did not treat his service of Hashem (G-d) as old. Rather, he searched deeply to find his own path in the service of G-d. He approached everything with fresh eyes, looking for a way to make the ‘old’ path his own.” According to Rabbi Weinberger “a tzaddik (righteous person) who is the child of wicked people…[have] the thrill of the ‘new,’ the excitement of rebelling…[to] feel like a trailblazer…That is why the accomplishment of Yitzock (Isaac) in deepening the ‘old’ path is greater in a certain respect…” We look up to Abraham’s life of faith, but we often forget that without Isaac’s life of dedication, the faith of Abraham would have been for naught.
Isaac’s life fits the Hebrew verb “L’hiyot—To Be.” This word is the word God uses when describing His glorious name to Moses, “Eh’yeh Asher Eh’yeh—I will be who I will be.” It is from this expression that we get the Tetragrammaton = God’s personal 4 letter name. God’s 4 letter name is created by combining the words “haya—was,” “hoveh—is,” and “ye’he’ye—will be” together. This symbolizes God’s timeless nature, the One who has been and always will be. Isaac, in being connected to the Hebrew verb “L’hiyot—To Be” connected to the very essence of the Creator. Isaac didn’t try and be something he wasn’t, he just was, and in being who he was, he brought the message of Abraham to countless generations after him.
|In Judaism, Isaac is equated to the attribute of “Gevurah” which is often connected to “Justice,” however, when one translates this word it means “Power, Might, Courage, Valor, Heroism.” I believe this is fitting. Isaac is a courageous hero in my book. He set the example for us all on how to become leading-followers and how to stay true to the path of those gone on before. Isaac was a light in his generation, not because he was making big fireworks for everyone to see, rather, as Lubavitcher Rebbe put it, “Light does not have to actively exert itself to dispel darkness—darkness simply ceases to exist in the presence of light.” Because it just is… Isaac walked on the “old” paths, creating a “rut-of-righteous” for succeeding generations to follow in. May it so be as we pray to God from the book of Lamentations, “Hashivenu Elecha Hashem V’Nashuvah Chadesh Y’meynu K’Kedem—Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we will be restored; Renew our days as of old…” Return us to the paths of the Patriarchs; the path of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!|
Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,