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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Skorka

Toldot, the story of Isaac and his seed

The narrative developed in this parashah refers to the life of the second patriarch, Isaac, and that of his family. Isaac is portrayed as a man of absolute obedience to the fulfilment of divine commands. As Kierkegaard noted in his book on the meaning of faith (Fear and trembling), despite his fear and trembling, Isaac extended his neck to the knife that his father Abraham brandished. Jacob later refers to the God in whom his father believed with the strange and at the same time understandable name: "the fear of my father Isaac" (Genesis 31: 42; 53).

After the death of his father, Isaac does not seek to find new wells of water but dusts off those that Abraham had discovered and had subsequently been covered over by the Philistines. Isaac delved into the past to deal with his present. He had passed the test of the sacrifice but was marked by it for life. Perhaps this is why God instructs him, when Isaac was going to undertake a trip to Egypt to get food during a famine (as Abraham had done in his time [12: 10]), that he should not go. Isaac had been left with a special sensibility, as Rashi explains about 26:2. Isaac lost his vision to old age, because the tears shed by the angels at the time of the sacrifice fell on them (according to Rashi in 27: 1, quoting Bereshit Raba, Toldot, 65). Perhaps the text of the Torah itself, like the Midrash and later interpreters, understands that the passivity of the second patriarch was due to the aftereffects of that terrible trial.

Jacob, his son, is the one who – as we will see – struggles with his passions, speaks to God with simplicity and straightforwardness. He does not possess the strength of Abraham or the passivity of his father as personal deep and subtle expressions of faith. Perhaps that is why the name of “Israel” that God would later give Jacob (once he overcame his conflicts and baseness), became also the name of the people who embody the faith of his father and his grandfather.

Shabbat Shalom!


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