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Parshas Toldos

Yitzchak - The Middle Av
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

The Torah details Avraham Avinu's ten tests and describes his chessed amongst other episodes of his illustrious life. An even larger portion of the Torah is devoted to Yakov, his trials and triumphs and the raising of his family, the twelve shevatim. This is so that we may learn from them and aspire to emulate their greatness, as Chazal teach: "One is obligated to ask 'When will my deeds reach the deeds of my forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?' (Ta'ana D'vei Eliyahu ch.25)". By contrast, Sefer Bereishis reveals very little of the life and deeds of Yitzchak. We have all heard of the 'middle child'. He is too young to have the responsibilities of his older sibling and he lives constantly in the shadow of his accomplishments. Yet he is too old to be cute and babied like his younger sibling. Yitzchak Avinu appears to be the middle Av, constantly in the shadow of his father and outshined by his illustrious son. Even when Yitzchak is mentioned, it is usually in a passive role. Avraham is commanded to sacrifice Yitzchak, and arranges his marriage to Rivka. Yakov and Eisav compete to receive their aging father's blessings. However Yitzchak is also one of the Avos. We are obligated to emulate his ways. What then is Yitzchak's legacy to the Jewish people?

Although the Torah is virtually silent concerning Yitzchak's achievements, there is one seemingly insignificant incident where we are given much detail. Yitzchak settled in G'rar and prospered there. Avimelech, the king was jealous of his success and forced him to resettle. The people of G'rar had closed up the wells that Avraham dug during his sojourn in G'rar. Before Yitzchak departed, he re-dug these wells and gave them the same names as his father had. Why does the Torah emphasize this episode more than Yitzchak's other experiences?

Rabbeinu Bachya explains: "Yitzchak re-dug them (the wells) and called them the same names as his father. He did so to honour his father. Since the Torah relates this, it appears that this was a merit for him (Yitzchak). This teaches us a valuable lesson - that one should not veer from the path of his father. For Yitzchak did not wish to alter even the names of the wells that his father named. Surely this applies to the ways of the Avos, their customs and their teachings."

More than relating an incident of anti-Semitism, the Torah is emphasizing Yitzchak's strict adherence to Avraham's teachings. For a clearer understanding, let us reiterate the words of R' Chaim Volozhin zt'l. It says in Mishlei, a tzaddik can toil with great effort to reach his goals and his descendants will then carry on his ideals with relative ease. Avraham's task was to forge a path so that his children could simply walk through on the well-worn trail (see "The Tests of Time" - Parshas Vayeira). If Avraham's avoda was to plod a path for his children, then it is the task of the children to follow that path. Who was the first Jewish son? - Yitzchak. Yitzchak realised that his task was to teach the Jewish nation to be proper Jewish sons and daughters.

The Parsha begins "And these are the offspring of Yitzchak the son of Avraham; Avraham begot Yitzchak". Rashi explains that although the second half of the passuk is obvious given the first half, nevertheless the Torah adds this superfluous statement to teach us that Yitzchak's very appearance was testimony to the fact that Avraham begot Yitzchak. Hashem created Yitzchak as a mirror image of his father, so none would doubt his lineage. The Midrash adds that Yitzchak's behaviour, deeds and traits testified that he was the son of Avraham. Yitzchak emulated his father's ways, and all who saw him proclaimed that he must be the son of Avraham.

This is why the Torah relates so little of Yitzchak's life. The Torah teaches us that Yitzchak adhered to Avraham's teachings. If one is interested in knowing how Yitzchak conducted himself, all they need do is look at what the Torah relates of Avraham.

For example, we know that Avraham Avinu dedicated his life to chessed. Yet, the Torah only relates one incident of his chessed. The Torah does not record every time Avraham invited guests. It is understood that this one act of chessed was not the exception, rather we infer that he made a career of performing chessed. So too, it is certain that Yitzchak emulated this special attribute of his father by also performing acts of kindness.

This was actually a new phenomenon. There were many tzaddikim before Yitzchak, however he was the first to follow in his father's ways. (For instance, Yakov is referred to "Yosheiv Ohalim", one who dwells in tents. These tents refer to the school of Shem and the school of Ever. Ever was Shem's great-grandson. Why didn't they form one school? - because each had their own approach. They were following different paths rather than the younger generation emulating the older as we see with Yitzchak.) The Plishtim closed off Avraham's wells after his death, thus symbolising with his passing that his teachings were no longer relevant. Yitzchak however, clung to his father's ways, stating that we must still learn from Avraham. The Plishtim however did not regard Yitzchak as a tzaddik. He did not have an original approach. He was seen as an imitation of Avraham. Therefore they did not show him the same respect as they had shown to Avraham. They would never have told Avraham to leave. Yitzchak persevered and re-dug his father's wells. Later the Plishtim returned to him and said: "Ra'oh ra'inu" - "See, we have seen that Hashem has been with you." (26:28) Rashi explains that the double use of the word 'see', indicates that their intent was "We saw it with your father, and we have seen it with you." They were admitting that Avraham lived on through Yitzchak.

We are not implying that Yitzchak imitated his father and did not have a character of his own. On the contrary, we are told that he is identified with the attributes of gevura, strength, and din, judgement, whilst Avraham's midda was chessed. However R' Dessler zt'l explains that in deed, the Avos were identical. However, in thought, motivation and intention, they differed. This was also a display of gevura. It takes strength to contain one's natural desire to make a name for oneself and forge an original path in life. It takes good judgement to know how to stay on the path and at the same time, make it one's own path. Yitzchak did not blindly follow Avraham, rather he re-created and built on Avraham's original teachings (See Michtav Me'Eliyahu vol. 4. P. 161; p. 205).

Let us learn from Yitzchak's legacy. We must emulate the Avos and follow in their footsteps. Let our deeds testify that we are the children of the Avos.

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2001 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

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