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  • Writer's pictureGabbai

Toldot – Isaac’s Invisibility

Abraham is known in our tradition as the one who embodied kindness, serving God through his activism and relationship with people. Isaac had a different quality, focusing more on discipline and reverence of God. Little is said about Isaac in the Torah. Numerous stories and “adventures” are told about both Abraham and Jacob but Isaac remains in the shadows. Chaye Sarah focused on the search for a wife for Isaac but had very little to tell about Isaac himself. Our Parsha opens with Isaac praying on behalf of his barren wife and God responds to his plea. After that the narrative focuses on Jacob. We come back to Isaac later when he offers to confer Abraham’s blessing upon Esau, but he is a passive character in that episode as the Torah focuses on Jacob throughout that narrative.

If the forefathers are expressions of the traits they embody it makes sense that the narrative would also reflect those traits. Abraham and Jacob represent qualities that are visible and interactive. Abraham’s exercise of kindness was very visible and that is expressed through the stories related in the Torah concerning Abraham. Jacob embodies truth (although how that quality is expressed through Torah’s narratives concerning Jacob requires a more in depth explanation). Isaac, however, represents a quality which is not very visible. While other traits are active the trait of discipline is more about restraint, holding back. Self discipline is very personalized, not apparent to spectators. It requires a great deal of humility and integrity; it demands introspection and self knowledge. A disciplined person will not give knee-jerk reactions to external stimuli. Everything will be processed and filtered, with reactions coming out only after weighing carefully the matters at hand.

Such was the quality represented by Isaac. This helps to explain why we are exposed to so little of Isaac’s actions. Interestingly, it is his inaction which is probably most highlighted in the Torah, with the wells dug by his servants seized by local tribes. Isaac does not put up a fight but quietly goes off and digs another well. It is easy to miss the true value of his personality, but Isaac’s strength is profound and must not be overlooked.

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