Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
A young mother told me that she began to study the weekly Torah portion and asked what there is in this week's Torah portion that she could discuss with her children and guests at her Shabbat table. Here are some thoughts of our commentators through the ages regarding two central subjects of this week's parasha.
Parashat Toldot hints at the anguish of Yitzchak and Rivkah due to their longing for children, a recurring theme throughout the book of Genesis. The fathers and mothers of our nation provide a lesson in how to cope with childlessness and, in general, with whatever causes us pain or is lacking in our lives. Yitzchak and Rivkah wait twenty years for Rivkah to become pregnant. Twenty years of prayers and supplications must pass before Ya'akov and Esav are born. What did they experience during these two decades while waiting? Moreover, what sorts of things justify such a long period of waiting? And how does someone feel about something for which they have prayed for twenty years?
In this parasha, Yitzchak Avinu does exactly what his father Avraham did: He digs the same wells, experiences a similar famine in the land, and appears not to do anything new or original. Yet our commentators explain that it is precisely in this behavior and frame of mind -- when we continue down the same road taken by our fathers and find meaning in it -- that true greatness is demonstrated. The world could not exist if there were only revolutionaries such as Avraham in it. This week is about showing esteem for those like Yitzchak who persevere, following in the footsteps of their predecessors, who do not have a tumultuous life story to tell, but simply lead a life of hard work and devotion to a mission. When do our actions represent a perspective and a way of living that began generations ago? When do we find novelty in what happens within our homes and within ourselves, and not in what is going on outside?
Chodesh tov and Shabbat shalom. Have a good month and a peaceful Shabbat.