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Parshas Toldos - The Real Legacy of Yitzchak

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Nov 28, 2008

Of all the Avos, we know the least about Yitzchak. Unlike Avrohom Avinu, whose many nisyonos and whose spiritual growth are depicted at length for a span of three parshiyos, and unlike Yaakov Avinu, whose life and tribulations, saturated with bitachon, fill approximately 25 chapters of Sefer Bereshis, the life of Yitzchak Avinu - who lived longer than Avrohom and Yaakov - is basically limited to Parshas Toldos. With the exception of the Akeidah (in Parshas Vayeira) and a few brief pesukim about Yitzchak's betrothal to Rivkah (in Parshas Chayei Sarah), the main events of Yitzchak's life are apparently encapsulated in Parshas Toldos.

That being the case, it is puzzling that aside from two prophecies from Hashem and the erection of a mizbe'ach accompanied by the offering of a tefillah, the focus of Yitzchak's activity in Parshas Toldos appears to be mundane affairs - the taking and subsequent return of his wife by Avimelech, planting crops, and digging wells. Why does the Torah not speak more about Yitzchak's spiritual legacy? Are there no greater accomplishments of Yitzchak which Parshas Toldos could depict?

It is noteworthy that the activities of Yitzchak presented in our parshah largely mirror those of Avrohom: Avrohom's wife Sarah was taken by Pharoah and Avimelech and was subsequently returned when it was discovered that Sarah was Avrohom's wife rather than his sister, and the exact same episode (involving Avimelech) occurs with Yitzchak and Rivkah; when we read of Yitzchak's well-digging, we are told that it included redigging the wells of his father. Is there a pattern here?

One would expect Yitzchak to broaden and expand upon the mesorah of Avrohom Avinu, but the above activites of Yitzchak Avinu were of a defensive nature: protecting his wife and marriage and restoring sealed family wells from aggressors. However, this in fact is the key to understanding what is going on in our parshah.

Avrohom Avinu was a trailblazer, defying societal beliefs and practices and raising a family with values that contradicted the norms of his time. Such an enterprise can be shaky and difficult to keep afloat; its endurance for perpetuity would seem unlikely, as we find with the vast majority of new movements and novel ideologies. Yitzchak knew that his goal was to fortify the mesorah of Avrohom. The maintenance of Avrohom Avinu's vision and path in life, and passing it on to yet another generation, was Yitzchak's goal. Similar to Yosef, who knew that his mesorah would be threatened by Egyptian culture and that the continuation of Torah in his seed would be most difficult without constant reinforcement from within, Yitzchak Avinu was fully aware that his task was to maintain the derech of Avrohom in his own family rather than to embark upon new projects.

We thus understand (1) why several of Yitzchak's activities in Parshas Toldos are largely defensive in nature, (2) why there is an absence of new "achievements", and (3) why the narratives present scenarios which mimic those of Avrohom. These three factors proclaim that Yitzchak's role was to perpetuate and deepen the legacy of his father, which would be very tenuous without Yitzchak's firm focus on keeping Avrohom's vision and ideas alive. The greatness of Yitzchak was in large measure his ability to keep the novel and fresh fire of Avrohom burning in the face of the strongest of winds. In fact, one can say that this itself was the lifetime expression of Yitzchak's middah of Gevurah. "Ben Zoma says...'Who is mighty? One who restrains himself.'" (Avos 4:1). Rather than going out and further spreading the tent of Torah as did his father, Yitzchak was forced to consciously restrain and limit himself by focusing on keeping Avrohom Avinu's theology alive by raising a family that would perpetuate it. It was surely more appealing to embark on new kiruv projects and seek adventuresome spiritual challenges, but Yitzchak willingly forfeited this all in order to maintain the delicate and precious legacy whose responsibility was on his shoulders.

We too should not be discouraged by lack of "new" or "exciting" achievements. The greatest achievement is to maintain a Torah life, which requires constant effort. When one completes a seder of mishnayos or a masechta after learning through it the first time, the urge is to forge ahead and start a new seder or masechta. More often than not, the wiser decision would be to again learn that same seder or masechta that was just completed in order to firm up and deepen one's mastery of it. Yitzchak's mesorah is to forego appealing opportunities and to instead fortify and cultivate the precious and possibly fragile accomplishments we have already made, for they may otherwise be tragically lost. This is the true and ultimate Gevurah!


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