Sons and Fathers
A Rabbi said to a precocious six-year-old boy, “So, you tell me that your mother says your prayers for you each night. That’s very commendable. What does she actually say?”
The little boy replied, “Thank G-d he’s in bed!”
Leading a life in the 21st century as a parent is never easy. We find ourselves working during the day to make the necessary income, and in the evenings to ensure a good upbringing of our children.
The secret is giving them over real time and personally investing in their education.
Our Parasha is called Toldot which means generations or offspring.
The Parasha opens: “And these are the offspring of Yitschak the son of Avraham – Avraham fathered Yitschak.”
As is well known, the title of a Parasha is taken from the first key word of each Parasha. Sometimes this is the very first word, but can occasionally be up to fourteen words later, as we find in Parashat Kedoshim.
Our Parasha commences with the words – “Ve’eleh Toldot Yitschak ben Avraham”.
Toldot is therefore a very apt name for the Parasha.
However there is a similar Parasha which also begins with the words Ve’eleh Toldot – that of Noach.
Yet there we find that the Parasha name is called Noach and here it is called Toldot.
Perhaps Noach should be called Toldot and Toldot should be called Yitschak, why the difference in titles?
Noach was a righteous man who was primarily interested in himself. Even though it took 120 years to build the ark, he was never able to change any of his generation or encourage them to repent. This was in contrast to Avraham who later was able to bring the masses under the worship of the One G-d.
Avraham was able to earn the name of an Av – forefather.
Three times a day we begin the most holy of our prayers with the famous words, “Blessed are you G-d, the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitschak, and the G-d of Yaakov”.
The Gemara (Berachot 16b) teaches that only three individuals have the title ‘Avot’.
Rabenu Bechaye explains that the source for this comes from a Pasuk when Hashem introduces himself to Moshe at the burning bush as –“ The G-d of your fathers, the G-d of Avraham, The G-d of Yitschak and the G-d of Yaakov” (Shemot 3:15).
This was the way that G-d introduced Himself to Moshe and this, explains the Torah Temimah, is the reason we introduce our most holy prayers in this manner.
Avraham, through his life’s ten tough tests, was able to withstand and become the prodigy of a nation.
Yet there is even more behind the scenes.
Many commentaries wonder why the Torah mentions that Avraham was the father of Yitschak, a fact that we surely know.
R’ Menachem Mendel Krochmal z”l (17th century Poland) offers the following explanation:
The Midrash Tanchuma teaches: Sometimes a son suffers degradation because of his father, as the righteous King Yoshiyahu suffered degradation because of his father, the wicked King Amon (Melachim II chapters 21- 22).
Similarly the righteous King Chizkiyahu suffered degradation because of his father, the wicked King Achaz (Melachim II chapter 16).
On the other hand, a father sometimes suffers degradation because of his children, as the prophet Shmuel did because of his sons, and the Kohen Gadol Eli did because of his sons (see Shmuel I 8:3 and 2:22).
However, concludes the Midrash, neither Avraham nor Yitschak ever suffered degradation on account of the other. To the contrary, each one was made more distinguished because of his association with the other. Perhaps, writes R’ Krochmal, this is the message of our verse. Yitschak was proud to be Avraham’s son, and Avraham was proud to be Yitschak’s father.
We find similarly that Moshe and his father-in-law Yitro each took pride in his relationship with the other.
R’ Krochmal adds: It is the way of wise men and it is a sign of righteousness to always attribute one’s accomplishments to others. Avraham attributed his accomplishments to Yitschak, and Yitschak, to Avraham.
In married life Yitschak took on the same character. After many years of not being able to have children, the Torah relates that Yitschak would pray opposite his wife. The Pri Tsadik explains this to mean that he would pray to have children in her righteous merit and she would pray to have children in his righteous merit. Each one recognised the others virtues to an extent that their grandeur and achievements in life were down to the other.
When there is such respect in a father and son or husband and wife relationship, then we have the necessary ingredients for continuity.
We can now understand why our Parasha which deals with Yitschak and his offspring is called Toldot.
Noach lived in a tough generation but was self focused. His offspring was himself and that Parasha is named after him.
But as far as Yitschak was concerned it was the Toldot – generations that mattered.
The lesson is profound; ultimately what matters most is not the extent to which our name is in print, but rather how successful we are in guaranteeing the continuity of our faith.