19971. Aleh toldot Yitchak. This is how the parsha begins: This is Isaac's story! This is who Isaac is! And so we expect that Isaac will be the main character or hero of the narrative that follows. One brief chapter is devoted to his adult years and the only other times we learn about him are during his younger years and his old age. What then is Isaac's story? Who is he?
Toledot Top Ten for the Shabbat of Thangsgiving - Some Things to Think About on the Way Home or At Home
2. In the Torah readings up until this week we know Isaac as the son of his distinguished and well-established father Abraham- that is, one of the two sons of Abraham. How does Isaac whose life story shares so many common characteristics with Abraham ( a barren wife, two sons who have little in common, a famine story, a treaty with a neighboring chieftain a promise from God) differentiate himself from his father? How does he become his "own man"?
3. How do we now understand the personality and influence of Isaac as one of the patriarchs? We have only a few chapters devoted to his story compared to the stories of Abraham and eventually Jacob, his son. Is Isaac the "sandwich generation" - the family member surrounded on both sides by a notable father and a famous son? Abram becomes Abraham and Jacob becomes Israel. Isaac is the patriarch whose name is not changed.
4. There are four main players in the drama: Isaac and Rebecca, Esau and Jacob. Once again in Genesis we have two brothers and a rivalry- Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael and now Esau and Jacob." Two nations are in your womb. Two peoples apart while still in your body. One people shall be mightier than the other, and the older shall serve the younger."
5. The brothers are so different one from another - different physically and different in temperament. How do the names given to them at birth foreshadow what comes next? Esau is the out-of-doors man and Jacob is described as a Mother's boy, a veritable "couch potato". Esau has a "taste for game" and Isaac favors him..."but Rebecca loved Jacob".
6. The "birthright" was to go to the older and in Canaan the first-born was to receive a double portion of the inheritance. Jacob merges as the prominent son: this is a theme that we see again and again. Joseph, Ephraim, Moses and David were not first borns! How might one's spiritual status ( the blessing) be significantly different from one's legal status?
7. Isaac prospers "... he reaped a hundredfold...the Lord blessed him and the man grew richer and richer." The wells that his father's servants had dug were stopped up by the Philistines. Why? What happened was a serious violation of property rights. Then Isaac is warned: "Go away from us, for you have become far too big for us". Isaac in time digs new wells but not without encounters with the Lord and with his neighbors. What is the significance of Isaac digging his own wells? What significance is there to the place names - Rehoboth and Beersheba?
8. Isaac who was almost sacrificed by his own father is best known for his own role as a father. This is how we remember him. What is truly unique about his story is the blessing of his sons.
9. Isaac calls Esau. It is Esau who responds "Heneini: Here I am!" Does one expect that response from Esau - Heneini? Rebecca works to obtain it for Jacob. "The voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau." Isaac may be old and blind: he is not incompetent!
10."May the Lord give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth Abundance of new grain and wine " (From the blessing to Jacob)
...Your abode shall enjoy the fat of the earth and the dew of the heaven above... (From the blessing to Esau)
Happy Thanksgiving! Shabbat Shalom!
Prepared by Dr. Shulamith Reich Elster, Hillel of Greater Washington.