The Not-So-Missing Link
THE NOT-SO-MISSING LINK
When counting the Omer, I find that the most difficult day to remember is day 3. Why? On day 1 the text for counting the Omer appears at the close of the Haggadah at the Second Seder. On day 2 it appears at the close of Ma’ariv for Motzoei Yom Tov, when the counting is fresh in our mind. For day 3, however, we have to be aware to follow the fine print in the Siddur to the page where all 49 days are enumerated. And as it is with adding mashiv ha’ruach or v’sain tal u matar b’vracha in Shmoneh Esrei, it’s all too easy to forget switching the words in the text box from force of habit.
Why do we mention this? Because Parshas Toldos is the only parashah in which Yitzchak appears as a major character. (Remember that in the previous parashah, Chayei Sarah, Avraham’s senior servant, Eliezer, conducts the courtship of Rivka in Aram, and Yitzchak appears only at the end when Eliezer brings his bride home.) By contrast, Avraham is a central figure in three parshiyos (Lech Lecha, Vayeira, and Chayei Sarah), while Yaakov is featured in seven, from Toldos through Vayechi at the conclusion of Sefer Bereyshis.
Sandwiched in between the parshiyos recounting the turbulent lives of Avraham and Yaakov, it’s easy to overlook Yitzchak. After all, except for the Akeidah, his life was less dramatic than that of the other Patriarchs. His covenant with Hashem didn’t involve animal sacrifices. He wasn’t called upon to leave his homeland; in fact, having been brought up on the altar at Mount Moriah as a sacrifice, Yitzchak acquired the holiness of a consecrated offering and wasn’t allowed to leave Eretz Yisrael. True, he did have to spend years in Philistia because of famine as his father did, and he identified Rivka as his sister rather than his wife (actually she was his first cousin). Sure enough, King Avimelech desired her. After a Peeping Tom episode wherein the King looked out a window and saw Yitzchak and Rivka acting as husband and wife, he commanded his people not to touch them, and they moved to the Valley of Gerar. Moreover, Yitzchak and Rivka had fertility difficulties, as did Avraham and Sarah, in this case lasting for twenty years. After considerable prayer, Hashem granted them twin sons: Yaakov, representing the good, and Aisav, representing the wicked, analogous to Yitzchak and Ishmael. In both cases there were serious sibling rivalries. Another similarity between father and son is that while Yitzchak and Ishmael apparently reconciled, insofar as they buried Avraham together, likewise Yaakov and Aisav buried Yitzchak together.
Thus, the lives of Yitzchak and Rivka paralleled Avraham and Sarah to a considerable degree, in keeping with the dictum that the deeds of the fathers are signs for the sons. As The Midrash Says explains, “Every action in our forefathers’ lives was a precedent for a similar event which would occur to their children in the future.” [Sefer Beraishis, Parshas Lech Lecha, p. 133] There is a significant difference, however. Yitzchak was the only Patriarch who was monogamous, likely because he was sanctified, hence his sons were born to the same mother. Thus the sibling rivalry between their respective sons took on different forms; Avraham sent away Ishmael and his mother, Hagar, to prevent them from exerting a negative influence on Yitzchak, while Yitzchak sent Yaakov away to Rivka’s family in Aram, ostensibly to find a wife at her behest, but in reality, also at Rivka’s behest, to distance himself from Aisav, who was so enraged by Yaakov’s “stealing” his father’s blessing that he contemplated killing his brother (shades of Kayin and Hevel).
In temperament, as in external events, Yitzchak is at a disadvantage as the subject of a story. He exemplifies gevurah, inner strength, to the point of accepting the Akeidah and even asking his father to bind him securely to prevent him from moving and possibly spoiling the cutting of his throat, which would have invalidated him as a sacrifice. Yitzchak’s fortitude inclined him toward introspection; while his father was outgoing and sought to bring the message of G-d to as many people as possible, Yitzchak had only one student – Yaakov. [Art Scroll Stone edition Chumash, Parashas Toldos, footnote p. 124] That one connection was enough to fulfill Yitzchak’s mission, to be the first link in the chain of transmission of Judaism from Avraham to his descendants. This is by no means a trivial matter. History is filled with instances where sons failed to carry on their fathers’ traditions. One need only look at the books of Kings I and II, where the kings of Judah oscillated from righteous to wicked to righteous again in succeeding generations.
Therein lies Yitzchak’s greatness. As Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter notes in Dorash Dovid [Series I Parshas Toldos, “Yaakov and Eisav: The Ongoing Battle,” p.111], Yitzchak had perfected his service of Hashem beyond the training he received from Avraham to the point of being an active participant in being sacrificed. It was then, after Yitzchak showed himself to be a complete tsaddik, that Avraham sent Eliezer to Aram to find a suitable wife for him to carry on the tradition. The union of Yitzchak and Rivka produced Yaakov, who established that as the third generation of the Avrahamic family, he would pass on the tradition to his sons, the progenitors of the Twelve Tribes. Thereby knowledge of Hashem and obedience to His mitzvos became a permanent heritage.