Last week’s parsha ended with the death of Abraham, and the long line of descendants from Ishmael, who lived to be 137 years old. There is also a brief mention of Isaac—that he was blessed by God after his father’s death and that he settled near Beer-lahai-roi. So he’s sandwiched between his father and his brother.
And he doesn’t do much better in this week’s parsha, TOLDOT. It opens:
יטוְאֵ֛לֶּה תּֽוֹלְדֹ֥ת יִצְחָ֖ק בֶּן־אַבְרָהָ֑ם אַבְרָהָ֖ם הוֹלִ֥יד אֶת־יִצְחָֽק:
“This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac.” And suddenly Isaac is 40 years old and living his life.
As the Torah recounts that life, you might begin to have a real sense of déjà vu. Like Abraham, Isaac digs the same wells. Like Abraham, Isaac lies about his wife being his sister. Like Abraham, Isaac has a wife who has difficulty conceiving, and then has boys who are jealous rivals. So those opening lines of the parsha gain more significance. The Torah seems to be telling us that what matters is Isaac’s lineage. He may not be much of an original thinker or doer—but he has yiches, an inheritance, from his father. The lines that open Toldot seem to be offering us a circle—Isaac, son of Abraham, Abraham, father of Isaac.
Isaac, as the Eytz Hayyim notes, is the sole heir of Abraham. Though the passage may seem redundant—of course we know that Isaac is the son of Abraham—but here the emphasis makes clear that Isaac is the ONLY successor to Abraham. Regardless of what he accomplishes, and regardless of how unoriginal his life seems to be, Isaac is going to make possible the survival of the Jewish people.
Rabbi David Grossman
Rabbi Joshua Grossman