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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Almost a Name of His Own

Posted by rabbiart on November 23, 2008

There are six parshiot in the Torah named after individuals. Why not a seventh? And why not this parshah? Our parshah opens with the words וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת יִצְחָק “these are the generations of Yitzhak”. Yet in most places, the name of the parshah is simply תּוֹלְדֹת “generations.” Yitzhak, one word away, is not added to the parshah name. Check calendars – online or printed – that list the names of the parshiot. Most (just being safe here) list the parshah as “Toldot.” Check, for example, the list on hebcal.

Just as last week’s parsha has a two word name –chayei sarah – this week’s parshah could have a two word name – toldot yitzhak. Just as Sarah is a matriarch, Yitzhak is a patriarch. He does not get the same respect when it comes to parshah names.

In one verse the Torah tells us how to think about Yitzhak.

וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת יִצְחָק, בֶּן-אַבְרָהָם: אַבְרָהָם, הוֹלִיד אֶת-יִצְחָק

This is the life of Yitzhak, Avraham’s son; Avraham gave life to Yitzhak*

When his story is introduced, Yitzhak is immediately defined in reference to his identity. Twice. He is his father’s son, the father who gave birth to him. He is the man with no identity of his own, or so it would seem.

Throughout his story, Yitzhak is constantly defined in terms of other people. The significance of his birth is as a miracle for his parents, especially his father. His father who almost kills him.

When we are told of his praying to HaShem, it is on behalf of his wife. His wife who later manipulates him into blessing a Yakov – a masquerading and deceitful son. There are only two significant stories about Yitzhak. When he encounters a famine, he acts just as his father had done, attempting to masquerade his wife as his sister. In the other, quite famous story, he is bamboozled by one son and must comfort the other.  The episode is much more about the sons, than it is about the father.

Even Yitzhak’s face is made to look like his father’s, in this Talmudic episode. (Talmud Bavli, Baba Mezia, 79a)

R. Levi said” On the day that Avraham weaned Yitzhak he made a great banquet.  All the people deried him saying “Have you seen that old man and woman, who brought an orphan from the street and claim him as their son!” They even make a great banquet to establish their claim>’ What did Avraham do? He invited all the gream men of the age, and Sarah invited thier wives. A miracle happened unto Sarah; he breasts opened like two fountains, and she suckled them all. The people still scoffed. Immediately the features of Yitzhak’s face changed and his face became like Avraham’s.  Immediately the people all cried out “Avraham gave life to Yitzhak.

Yitzhak is truly a transitional figure. His birth gives justification to his parents’ lives. His death sets up the path that his sons will follow. Even in the one episode where he is the central character he “digs his father’s wells.” Only in the terrible period of the middle ages does he become the hero of his own story.  But that is another subject.

The parshah is well and truly named, because it is not about Yitzhak, but about the generations (toldot) that come before and after him. Yitzhak is almost incidental to the story.

*Translating ולד as “life” and using it as a verb and ואלה in the singular. As a noun ולד means child, infant, even embryo and as a verb to give birth, so a word with a feminine connotation.


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