Eileh toldot Yitzchak. These are the generations of Isaac. We’ve already seen Parshas Noach start the same way. Eileh toldot Noach. Rashi, amongst other commentators interpret the word toldot, generally meaning descendants, 3 ways.
There is the surface meaning, their physical children. Eileh toldot Yitzchak…Esav v’Yaakov. On the surface, these are the descendants of Isaac, Esav and Yaakov. The Parsha goes on to talk about the story of their birth and the conflict between them. I am struck again by the normal human lives led by our patriarchs. Compared to his father and his sons, Yitzchak lives a peaceful, uneventful, nearly perfect home life. He lives in Southern Eretz Israel his whole life. Rather than being a bedouin he appears to adopt what we might call a “ranching lifestyle” farming in one place and rotating his herds around a central home or camp. Any tears with his brother are mended, at least nominally, by the time of his father’s death. At 180, he lives the longest of the Patriarchs, and Unlike his father or his sons, he has one wife and no recorded marital problems. But we see that Isaac is still an imperfect father, favoring Esav over Yaakov to the point of ignoring Esav’s increasingly visible troublesome behavior. My own personal thought that I read into the story, is that Yitzchak, mostly shown as an introvert, is drawn to his extroverted son, possibly because he reminded him in some ways of his very extroverted father. Whereas Yaakov, seems to be more similar in personality to Yitzchak. THe Torah states that Yitzchak’s eyes were “dim”, which Rashi implies means that he either was blind to, or willingly overlooked the behavior of his older son because of his affection for him. In this way, even though we see Yitzchak as the archetype of gevurah, meaning restraint or severity, we see that he was lenient, perhaps in a way that was detrimental to his favored son.
The second meaning, and the first of the interpreted meanings of Toldot is that the souls who are brought to Torah are counted as one’s children. On this subject, the Torah expounds upon Yitzchak’s career, namely well digging. THe sages compare his digging for water to his digging for spirituality. He is unlike Avraham, who actively sought converts wherever he went, (in the Torah we see this described as “creating souls”). From this we understand that he was a gregarious and active proselytiser. Yitzchak on the other hand, preferred to bloom where he was planted. He calls upon the name of HaShem the same way Avraham does, But less frequently and we do not read of the souls he created in those words, but rather that his crops produced 100 times the expected amount. THe sages interpret that Yitzchak never preached to anyone, but his life and actions drew others to him, to the point where there were so many followers, and Yitzchak grew so wealthy and influencial that King Avimelech became afraid of him, using a phrase “Go away from us, for you have become far too big for us.” later echoed by PHaroah and antisemites throughout history, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.” Though for Yitzchak, Avimelech eventually made a covenant..
THe third interpretation of toldot is deeds. THe good deeds of a person are considered equal to their offspring. Yitzchak as we mentioned earlier dug wells and farmed the land. THis is an action that makes the land around you better for everyone. Avraham was a bedouin, he wandered, constantly in search of new pastures, but Yitzchak stayed, he improved, and he did things to benefit the world around him. And when Yitzchak is presented with contention over his wells? He is obviously powerful enough to fight over them, but he moves on, he digs another well. He is more interested in providing water than he is about the wells.
I must say that I have covered this portion for several years now, and I’ve always viewed Yitzhak as merely sitting in the historical and spiritual waiting room. THat perhaps he is merely a placeholder between Avraham and Yaakov. But I think, that our community can learn a lot from this waiting patriarch.