Toldot (Descendants) – Genesis 25:19 – 28:9
With this week’s Torah reading, we move on to the life of Isaac, the second patriarch of the Jewish people. The portion begins in Chapter 25 verse 19 and continues through Chapter 28 verse 9. Indeed, it is the only Torah reading that deals with Isaac as an independent adult.
Isaac is a complicated character. On the one hand, he is a righteous man and Abraham’s sole heir. G-d appears to Isaac and endows him with the promises He had originally made to his father Abraham. (26:3 and 24). On the other hand, Isaac seems to be seriously flawed in his ability to perceive character. He prefers Esau because he is a successful hunter and misses the innocence and purity of Jacob.
Rebecca is blessed with the wisdom and perception that Isaac lacks and engineers events so that Jacob receives the blessing. Later, as Jacob departs from his parents, Isaac provides Jacob with an additional blessing — the blessing of Abraham, the blessing of children and of the land — the essence the inheritance that will be passed down to the children of Israel.
Scripture introduces the story of the switching of the blessings with the statement: “And when Isaac became old and his eyes were dim.” And of course, Isaac’s blindness is what enables Jacob to switch places with Esau. However, the Midrash suggests a meaning to this blindness that is far more than physical. The midrash states that when Isaac was placed upon the altar by his father Abraham, the angels of heaven looked down and wept at the thought that Isaac would be sacrificed by his own father. Those tears fell upon Isaac and blinded him.
Clearly, this story is not meant to be taken literally, as after the Binding incident, Isaac lives an active life, traveling to Gerar, negotiating with Abimelech, and is involved in various other activities that would be difficult for him to have accomplished in those days if he were blind. Also, Scripture’s statement quoted about indicates that Isaac’s blindness is a function of his age.
However, the Midrash is communicating a very special message, relating to Isaac’s spiritual blindness, his inability to assess the true nature of Esau’s character and the fact that Jacob is his true heir.
Isaac would have had to have gone through an incredible experience up there on Mt. Moriah. He was not a baby — he knew what was happening, and he submitted himself to G-d’s will. Not only was Abraham ready to sacrifice him, he was ready to be sacrificed. As he lay there on the altar, his eyes facing skyward, he achieves a spiritual clarity that is almost angelic. But, at the same time, his ability to perceive evil in the world, to be attuned to false pretences and charades was diminished. Isaac did not see Esau’s true character, because he had been blinded to his faults. It enabled him to love his son and value him for the good character traits that he did have — he was a devoted son and enjoyed bringing his father delicacies from the hunt. But Rebecca needed to be at Isaac’s side, guiding his perception and ensuring that Abraham’s heir was the worthy son.
When Jacob leaves Beersheva for Haran, G-d appears to him and promises him directly the blessing of Abraham, of children and the land. In so doing, G-d affirms Rebecca’s vision and Jacob as the final forefather of the Jewish people.
Shabbat Shalom From Samaria,
Sondra Baras Director, Israel Office