Parashat Toldot begins with the verse “This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac.” (Bereshit 25:19). On its own, the repetition of Avraham and Yitzchak appears to emphasize the connection between them. So we find midrashim and commentaries that discuss how Yitzchak looked like Avraham, or how Yitzchak followed Avraham’s path.
But a look at the end of Chayei Sarah places this verse in a different light. A few verses earlier we read the “toldot” of Yishmael:
“This is the story of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s slave, bore to Abraham.” (Bereshit 25:12)
The juxtaposition of these two “stories” makes sense. Yishmael’s story needs to come first, so it can be wrapped up before we get to the more important story of Yitzchak, and his descendants. We’ve seen this before – Terach’s death is mentioned before he chronologically dies in the narrative, and Esav’s story will also be wrapped up at the end of Vayishlach.
But when comparing the two “toldot” verses, one question stands out. Why doesn’t the story of Yitzchak begin by saying something like, “This is the story of Yitzchak, who Sarah bore to Avraham.” Why not mention Sarah?
Rav Mordechai Breuer, in Pirkei Bereshit, says that if the verse had mentioned Sarah as Yitzchak’s mother, we might think that the only difference between Yishmael and Yitzchak was who their mother was. But by only mentioning Avraham, the special relationship between this father and son is emphasized (as Rashbam points out on the verse). Yishmael will get his own nation, but Avraham’s legacy will continue through Yitzchak.
As we saw last week, the relationship between Yitzchak and Yishmael was healthy, and Avraham also loved Yishmael (as evidenced by his reluctance to cast him away). But since the Torah is interested in the story of the nation of Israel, the focus will now move to Yitzchak and his children, as the continuation of Avraham.