Dena Weiss of Mechon Hadar in New York begins her weekly Dvar Torah study with the following observation,
Yitzhak is one of the most enigmatic figures of the Torah. It is hard to understand what motivates him and what makes him unique, as he quite literally follows in his father’s footsteps and seems to allow his life to be determined by others. He marries the wife his father’s slave picks for him, re-digs the wells that his father had dug, and appears to be tricked by his wife and youngest son. … He does not even appear to be the gibor, the hero, of his own story![iii]
I included the last line of the quote above because of Yitzhak’s imitation of his father’s actions in claiming that his wife is his sister in order to protect his own skin. Seriously not much of a gibor.
It has been said that one of the reasons for Yitzhak’s lackadaisicalness stems back to the Akedah (Genesis 22). Abraham, his dad, took him along to make a sacrifice to ADONAI, when Yitzhak suddenly found himself bound and prepared as the sacrifice. Yes, HaShem provided a ram in Yitzhak’s place, but I am sure the event left an impression on the young man. Rabbi Sacks on the other hand, sees Yitzhak in a different light,
Isaac is the least original of the three patriarchs. His life lacks the drama of Abraham or the struggles of Jacob. We see in this passage that Isaac himself did not strive to be innovative, digging the same wells and naming them with the same names as his father. Often, we try to make ourselves distinctive from our parents. We do things differently, or even if we don’t, we give them different names. Isaac was not like this. He was content to be a link in the chain of generations, faithful to what his father had started.
Isaac represents the faith of persistence, the courage of continuity.[iv]
I believe this picture of Yitzhak, exhibiting “the faith of persistence, the courage of continuity,” should give each one of us a great amount of comfort and hope. The Almighty has gifted all of us with certain gifts and skills. We have all gone through trials and tribulations, though maybe not as intense as those listed in Hebrews 11:33-38 or as the Akedah experience. However, earth-shattering encounters with ADONAI are not necessarily what we need. Remember when the Almighty wanted to get Elijah’s attention, He did not do it through the destructive wind, the earthquake or the fire, but through a still small voice, which is an everyday occurrence. We need to remain steadfast, faithful, and hopeful through the events in our daily lives. Rav Shaul admonished the believers at Colossae that through the death of Messiah they would be presented to God “…holy, spotless and blameless in His eyes—if indeed you continue in the faith, established and firm, not budging from the hope of the Good News that you have heard,” (Colossians 1:22-23).
Yitzhak was and remains an example of steadfast faithfulness in the midst of adversity, in the midst of his own mistakes, and even in the midst of the scheming of those closest to him. Every day, several times a day, we bless God for the Patriarchs in the first bracha of the Amidah, “Blessed are You, LORD our God and the God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob… .”[v] Yitzhak stands among these great men by whom the God of Israel is identified, because of his persistence and continuity. May we all have the faith of persistence, the courage of continuity like Yitzhak so that we will be presented “holy, spotless and blameless” when we stand before the heavenly throne one day.
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] http://ourrabbis.org/main/resources/chayyei-yeshua-reading-cycle year 3, last accessed 8 November 2018.
[iii] Weiss, Dena. Tough Love, Parashat Toldot. Email, 6 November 2018.
[iv] http://rabbisacks.org/cc-family-edition-toldot-5779/ last accessed 8 November 2018.
[v] Sacks, Jonathan, The Koren Siddur, Nusah Ashkenaz, Hebrew/English edition. Jerusalem: Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2009, p 108.