Tol’dot (Ancestral Line)

Tol’dot-Genesis 25:10-28:9: In a short 35 verses we are told the life of Isaac. The fact that it closely parallels Abraham’s life, hints that he is following the same traditions and continuing his beliefs into a 2nd generation.——————–

The parsha begins “This is the line of Isaac son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac. Isaac was 40 years old when he took as his wife Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban, the Aramean.” (Gen. 25:19-20)

Most of the parsha tells the well-known stories of the children of Isaac and

  1. Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of broth.
  2. Later, when Isaac believes his death is near, Rebekah and Jacob plot to fool Isaac into believing that Jacob is Esau by placing a furry pelt on Jacob’s arm. As a result, Jacob receives the blessings of Isaac instead of Esau, who is due the blessing because he is the older of the two brothers.

Many readers of Torah see Isaac only as a bridge between the two more important generations of Abraham and Jacob. However, by continuing the traditions of Abraham and Sarah, I see both Isaac and Rebekah taking a very significant role in the beginnings of our Jewish faith.

As we read this week’s text, we see many similarities between the lives of Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah. In the beginning of the parsha we read “Isaac pleaded with the Eternal on behalf of his wife, for she was childless, and the Eternal acceded to his entreaty, so his wife Rebakah became pregnant.” (Gen. 25:21) This is very much like Sarah, who also did not have any children until old age. The result is that these children of older parents probably receive more attention and form a closer relationship to their parents.

Only a small part of the text, the 35 verses of Chapter 26, tells the story of Isaac. The details of this story closely follow the life of Abraham, even though in last week’s parsha we learned that Isaac chose to live in his mother’s tent and follow her ways…. And it was strongly hinted that Abraham and Isaac parted ways never to meet again.

The text tells us that there was a famine in the land and Isaac and Rebekah traveled to Gerar where Abimelech is king. Like Abraham being told to go to a land that God will lead him, Isaac also receives travel directions. “The Eternal appeared to (Isaac) saying,’ Do not go down to Egypt, reside in the land that I will point out to you. Stay in this land and I will be with you and bless you; for to your and your descendants will I give all these lands, fulfilling the oath that I swore to your father Abraham…’” (Gen. 26:2-3)

Once in Gerar, like the story of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac refers to his wife, Rebekah, as his sister to avoid trouble from the King, Abimelech…. This is the same king that Abraham and Sarah encountered. The king sees the relationship between Isaac and the Eternal and orders everyone in his kingdom not to harm Isaac or Rebekah.

Abraham stayed in Beersheba where he dug wells to provided water for his family and animals. In addition to liquid nourishment, Sages teach that water also represents knowledge. After Abraham leaves the land, the wells are covered so that the locals could not benefit from the contents (knowledge) of these wells.

Isaac re-digs the same wells his father, Abraham, had dug. The locals declare the water is theirs. So Isaac calls the well “wrangle.” Isaac proceeds to dig another well, which he names “Rehoboth,” meaning “Now the Eternal has granted us ample room and will make us fruitful in the land.” (Gen. 26:20-22)

Then, the same as Abraham, the Eternal blesses Isaac. And like Abraham, Isaac also concludes a treaty with the leaders of the land.

At this point in the Abraham story, God comes to Abraham and tells him to bring his son, Isaac to the mountain for a sacrifice… but, at the last moment, God intervenes to save Isaac. Abraham goes down the mountain alone. Abraham and Isaac never meet again according to Torah. In the Isaac story, Jacob also leaves his parents… only this time to escape his brother wrath. The text of Torah leads us to believe that this is the last time he sees his mother or father alive. However, Isaac and his brother, Ishmael, come together at the time of Abraham’s death to bury their father.

In a time when men were supposed to be in control, with women being subservient… Both Sarah and Rebekah have a very important impact on the lives of their families.

Sarah plays a significant role in sending Hagar and Ishmael away from their home.

In the Isaac story, the text tells us that Isaac notes that he is “grown old and may die any day.” (Gen. 27:2) He wants to bless his oldest son, Esau. Rebekah and Jacob then plot to get the blessing for Jacob. After the blessing, Rebekah fears that Esau might kill Jacob. She tells Jacob to flee the land and go to Rebekah’s brother Laban. So, in both stories, father and son are separated. In both stories, the mothers never see their sons again.

It seems as if the histories of Abraham/Sarah and Isaac/Rebekah are almost mirror images of each other. To me, this demonstrates the effect of the lessons that Abraham and Sarah taught Isaac. Yes, Isaac follows, almost to the letter, the life of his father. Together Isaac and Rebekah follow the traditions and faith in the Eternal as taught by Abraham and Sarah. Then, they teach these traditions to their son Jacob. They also steer Jacob back to their ancestral home to lead the faith into its third generation.

Thus Isaac and Rebekah continue the belief and faith of the Eternal into a second generation. This is a very significant happening…. Especially after the near sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. So often the path established by a father is lost by the second generation. This is why, even though Isaac’s role in the parsha we read this week is small, I believe it is very significant.

Earl Sabes

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