Parshat Toldot

November 16th, 2017

In Parsha Toldot the mantle moves from Abraham to Yitzchak, who till now is portrayed as a passive figure, with his father bringing him nearly to sacrifice and then sending a messenger to bring him a wife. The Torah does not tell us too much about his life and by the middle of this week’s Parsha he becomes old and nearly blind. However, he does have his moment of glory when faced with famine when Hashem tells him not to leave Israel and he moves to the Philistine territory of Avimelech. We are told, “Yitzchak sowed the land and in that year reaped a hundredfold. Hashem blessed him, and the man became great and kept becoming greater until he was very great.”

Nevertheless, even here Yitzchak appears to be under the influence of his father’s legacy and we are told he digs wells in those places where his father had been. So how are we to understand Yitzchak place in history is he just the link between Abraham who began the journey and Yakov who fathered the twelve tribes, or is there something deeper in this seemingly gentle character who remains within the boundaries of the Holyland.

Although not being a maven on psychology, in today’s world we would possibly view Abraham as the extrovert type going out to preach monotheism, bringing in guests, arguing with Hashem over Sodom and Yitzchak as the introvert avoiding the limelight where possible. However, I think our sages do provide us with a more balanced view, portraying Abraham as the archetype of “chesed” – kindness and Yitzchak as “gervura” – strength being more reserved, self-controlled and disciplined.

This episode in Yitzchak’s life is interpreted in Chassidic fashion, by the Maor Veshemesh (R Klonymous Epstein), with a much deeper meaning. Here in the story of digging the wells, Yitzchak is building and consolidating oh his father’s legacy which the Philistines tried to destroy and cover up. Yitzchak’s tireless efforts come to teach us the importance of dedicated hard work, without looking for glory, this is often what is needed to get the job done. In his view Yitzchak represents the concept of holiness in our daily activities and in working hard to succeed, there is no shame in becoming wealthy on the way.

The Slonim Rebbe in the Netivot Shalom expands this at great length, interpreting the story’s hidden meanings. Our three forefathers are the different role models for “tikun ha’olam” making the world a better place. Yitzchak’s sowing the seeds demonstrates his hard work and his efforts are rewarded one hundred fold. Abraham’s efforts were worthy but we are told that when he died the Philistines blocked them. However, they did not block up Yitzchak’s wells, they argued over the first well (Sitna) but then jointly used the second well at Rehovot and made peace. The Torah then closes the story that Yitzchak’s servants found water and he named the city Bersheva till this very day, indicating that Yitzchak’s effort unlike Abraham’s had a long lasting effect. The Slomin Rebbe sees the emphasis on Yitzchak’s quiet persistence as a message to us on what can be achieved.

Yitzchak’s challenge was just as hard as Abraham’s to continue and consolidate and to do it with quiet determination. The innovators and trail blazer are those who often make the headlines but they need the planners and workers to put it all together to get the results.

We have now returned for our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia with a wonderful group of friends. The dynamics of travelling with an group can be quite challenging with everyone having their own likes, dislikes and idiosyncrasies. But the dynamics of good group where you learn to live with others, the chatty ones, the quiet ones, the fussy and the easy going, can be an enjoyable experience in addition to seeing the wonders of the world.