Torah Portion: Toldot
Book of Genesis
November 13, 2015
At some point in life, everyone experiences a momentary blindness. The challenge is to limit those moments.
Isaac, the son of Abraham, was spared, in the final moment, from becoming a human sacrifice at the hand of his father. An ancient rabbinic commentary writes, “When Isaac lay upon the altar, about to be sacrificed by his father, the angels wept, and their tears fell upon his eyes, and there they remained and weakened his sight.”
Isaac would go on to marry Rebecca and together give birth to twins-Esau and Jacob. Most couples are unprepared for the realities and responsibilities of parenthood. Isaac and Rebecca were no different. The Torah tells us of sibling rivalry that existed from, literally, the moment Jacob and Esau were born. We are told Esau grew to become an accomplished hunter while Jacob was a “mild man who remained in camp” (Gen. 25:27). Isaac showed a liking for the “rough and tumble” accomplishments of Esau, while Rebecca favored the more intellectual pursuits of Jacob. As the boys grew into manhood, Isaac remained blind to their differences, and to their distain for one another. Did he even know that Jacob had cheated Esau out of his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup? In his last days, Isaac was too blind to even know that he was mistakenly giving Jacob his blessing that was meant for Esau. Was Isaac so blind that, as he neared death, he did not even know who Jacob or Esau were?
Rabbi Burton Visotsky, professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, notes, “It was blindness that left Isaac in darkness deeper than that which plagued Egypt. Isaac, who as a youth was blind to his half-brother’s (Ishmael) designs, who as he grew was blind to his father’s dangerous devotion to God, who as he married was blind to the corruptions of his brother-in-law, who as he fathered was blind to the petty flatteries of his sons, who as he aged was blind to his wife’s preference of one son and her schemes to advance him over the other-truly Isaac could not see. It was total blindness, as only angel tears can bring.”
Isaac is revered as one of the three patriarchal leaders of the Jewish people, yet he fails as a father figure to his own family. How catastrophic was his near-death moment on the altar his father, Abraham, built? It was blinding. One may suggest Isaac’s blindness is the result of Abraham’s failure as a father.
The most important role a person assumes in life is the one he/she is least prepared for: Being a parent. Each time we measure personal priorities against those of our children, remember the metaphoric stone cast into lake. Though it is only one stone, it creates many ripples. So, too, a parent’s actions like those of Abraham and Isaac.
Rabbi Howard Siegel