ParashatToldot: Isaac represents the ideal – the messianic world

Adrian in WuppertalThis week’s Torah portion begins with the phrase, V’eileh toldot Yitzchak ben Avraham, “This is the line of Isaac son of Abraham” (Genesis 25:19), indicating that the text is now going to focus on Isaac, the second of the Patriarchs of our tradition.

And, indeed, he figures prominently in the stories of this portion. However, he still seems to play a subordinate role to his father, Abraham, and his son, Jacob. In the stories of two of the major incidents of his life, the Akeidah (Genesis 22) and the blessing of his sons (Genesis 27) he is not even the central figure. Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut notes that “Of the three patriarchs, Isaac’s personality is the least clearly defined” and he is primarily “the bridge between Abraham and Jacob, the essential link in the chain of greatness“. While it is easy to overlook Isaac and his role in the biblical narrative, we can learn quite a lot from three aspects of his life that distinguished him from both his father and his son:

  • Isaac never leaves the Land of Israel
  • he only has one wife and only fathers children with one woman
  • his name is not changed.

What are we to make of these three differences between Isaac on the one hand and his father Abraham and son Jacob on the other? Abraham and Jacob seem to characterise the realities of this life: wandering from place to place with no place to call home; the need to reinvent oneself because of the challenges one faces; the difficulties of life when faced with realities. Abraham and Jacob represent this world, the challenges that we face as individuals and as a people, life in all of its messiness.

Isaac, on the other hand, represents the ideal, the messianic world we strive to become: a person (or people) with a place to call home; the ability to be true to oneself (ourselves) and not need to reinvent oneself (ourselves) because of circumstances beyond our control; the ability to remain faithful and loyal to one person.

In the midst of all the challenges of the Israelites in the ancient world, and in the midst of the all too real challenging stories of Abraham and Jacob, the Torah offers a glimpse of what it will be like some day when we have mastered the challenges we face to be able to live where we want to live and be true to who we are.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source:

Torah Reading for Shabbat Toldot:
Genesis 25:19 -28:09 (Reading 25:19-26:6; Plaut p.173; Hertz p.93);
Haftarah: Malachi 1:1-2:7 (Plaut p.191; Hertz p.102)

The Torah Study with Rabbi Schell continues this Shabbat, 21 November at 08h45 (Rondavel).

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