Posted on March 23, 2011
by Rachel Gutin
Okay. Let’s say there’s a guy who’s making a film. Now, for the sake of convenience, lets call this guy Joe Ordinary (yes, the same one who starred in my last D’var Torah…). Now, Joe’s movie happens to have three lead characters whom we’ll call, well, how about Abe, Izzy and Jake, again, just for the sake of convenience.
Anyway, Abe’s got a pretty meaty role, and so does Jake for that matter, but the guy playing Izzy might feel a bit cheated because, though he has a lead role, the part doesn’t seem too big. Joe even begins to wonder if he should just drop Izzy from the script, but no matter how little screen time the poor guy gets, this character is essential to the plot.
In Sefer Bereishit, we find a very similar scenario in relation to our three forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Both Avraham and Yaakov have extensive and memorable stories attributed to them, but what about Yitzchak? Did he do anything memorable? Well, he was nearly sacrificed to God at one point, but in that story, his father Avraham had the leading role. There was also the scene where he blessed the wrong son, which happens to be in this week’s Parsha, but in that one he shared the spotlight with Yaakov. As a matter of fact, the only place where Yitzchak really gets a solo scene is in this week’s Parsha, Toldot, right in the middle of everything else we read about.
The Parsha begins with the verse, “Eileh Toldot Yitzchak bein Avraham, Avraham holid et Yitzchak.” which translates roughly to, “And these are the offspring of Yitzchak son of Avraham; Avraham begot Yitzchak” (translation taken from Stone Chumash). Now think about that for a moment. If you were listening closely, you might have noticed that the Passuk said the same thing twice. If Yitzchak is the son of Avraham, why must the Passuk note that Avraham is Yitzchak’s father? Can’t Yitzchak just be known for who he is, and not who his father was?
The answer to that question, however, seems to be no. One commentator explains that Yitzchak was known for the merit of his father Avraham. Still, it is important to note that Yitzchak did have his accomplishments. In the middle of the Parsha, after Yaakov and Eisav are born, we learn that Yitzchak fled to a place called Gerar to escape a famine, much as his father did in his time. We learn he called his wife his sister, much as his father had done, in order that no jealous man should kill him. We learn that he redug the wells the Philistines had stopped up, the wells his father originally dug. Notice a pattern here? The truth is, Yitzchak seems to deserve to be known by his father, as he did act in many of the same ways.
However, there was one way in which he was different. Avraham’s son followed his ways almost exactly. That was Yitzchak. Yitzchak’s sons, however, did things differently. Neither Yaakov nor Eisav followed as exactly in their father’s footsteps as Yitzchak did. Though Eisav became known as the bad guy, where would we be without Yaakov?
See, the same commentator that said sons are known by their fathers also noted that fathers can be known by their sons. Avraham was known for the righteousness of his son Yitzchak. Yitzchak is said to be “Bein Avraham”, the son of Avraham, as he is known for who his father is, but the first passuk in the Parsha also says “Avraham Holid et Yitzchak,” “Avraham begot Yitzchak,” which is something Avraham is known for, the righteousness of his son. Similarly, Yitzchak is the father of Yaakov, and that alone makes him important to our history.
It has been said that Yitzchak was just a bridge between Avraham and Yaakov, but that belittles his role. Yes, he was the bridge, and yes, he has much less time dedicated to him in the Torah, but the role he played in our history is just as important as the roles of Avraham and Yaakov. Not all of the important characters get a lot of screen time; sometimes, they get none at all, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t accomplish something great. Just like Izzy had to stay in Joe Ordinary’s movie, even if he only got a minute in front of the camera, Yitzchak, and all of the other behind-the-scenes people can not be forgotten. It’s not only who stands in the spotlight that matters, but also who stands behind them.