1.

The opening pasuk of this week’s parshah,V’eileh toldot Yitzchak ben Avraham, Avraham holid et Yitzchak,” is popularly translated “These are the offspring of Yitzchak son of Avraham; Avraham begot Yitzchak.” Many commentaries question the apparent redundancy: Up to here we already learned that Yitzchak was the son of Avraham, and if so, it is obvious that Avraham begot Yitzchak?

Rashi understands the word toldot to mean “offspring.” He therefore notes that the offspring referred to in the pasuk are Yaakov and Eisav, who are not spoken of immediately, but rather further on. It is difficult to understand, the purpose of this introductory pasuk. Since it refers to Yaakov and Eisav “who are spoken of further on in the chapter,” this pasuk should have been placed later on in the chapter immediately following their birth?

Seforno (Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno (1475-1550)) and other commentators interpret toldot to mean “chronicles” or the events of one’s life.” Accordingly, the place of the pasuk as an introduction to the parshah is in proper order, but the question of the redundancy and necessity of repeating this obvious and previously known fact is still unanswered.

At the beginning of Parshat Noach, Rashi, based on the Midrash Rabbi Tanchuma 1, and Midrash Rabbah 30:6, writes on the pasuk “These are the Toldot — offspring — of Noach, Noach was a righteous person,” (6:9) that the pasuk mentions Noach’s righteousness at this point to teach that “ikur toldoteihem shel tzaddikim “— the main offspring, i.e. achievements — of the righteous, are ma’asim tovim — good deeds.

Thus, in our parshah it could be said that in this pasuk, the word toldot refers to the good deeds Yitzchak performed, and the remainder of the pasuk (ben Avraham) is not for genealogical purposes but rather, an explanation as to how he attained his achievements and that we can emulate him.

The words “Yitzchak ben Avraham” — “Yitzchak was the son of Avraham” — relate that Yitzchak’s success and noteworthy accomplishments were due to his constant remembrance of the words “ben Avraham,” that he was “the son of Avraham.” Hence, he always remembered his prominent ancestry and this prevented him from doing things that would negatively affect or cause embarrassment to his venerable father.

In addition, the Torah tells us that “Avraham holid et Yitzchak” — “Avraham begot Yitzchak.” The message is that a father transmits and instinctively infuses in his offspring character traits and unique powers. Avraham was the first Jew, and the progenitor of the entire Jewish people. The Torah describes him as “Avraham Ha’Ivri” (14:13). Literally this means that he came to Canaan from the other side of the Euphrates, but the Sages (Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 42:8) interpret the title “Ivri” — “of the other side” — in a deeper sense, too. It emphasizes a unique quality Avraham possessed, namely, that he was on one side of a moral and spiritual divide, and the rest of the world was on the other. Nevertheless, Avraham did not succumb. He did not yield to the vast majority. On the contrary, he remained steadfast in his convictions and sought to elevate humanity to a higher plane of morality.

This power Avraham our father instilled and bequeathed in all the Yitzchak’s of future generations.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, to successfully be a Chassid, yerei ShamayimG‑d fearing Jew — and a lamdan — a Torah scholar — and a master of good deeds you must always bear in mind that “Yitzchak ben Avraham” — you are a scion of a noble family. You have a prominent genealogy to emulate and you must ensure that the continuity is uninterrupted.

On the other hand, don’t be frightened by the challenge, since “Avraham holid et Yitzchak,” our forefather Avraham imbued all Jewish generations with the power and strength to be a Yitzchak, that is, to grow to be a Jew who will laugh off (the word Yitzchak is associated with laughter) the temptation of the world and bring laughter and joy to the Jewish world at large.


2.

Parshat Toldot deals with the latter part of Yitzchak’s life and introduces us to his offspring Yaakov and Eisav. After studying the Torah portions of Lech Lecha, Vayeira and Chayei Sarah, everyone knows that Avraham was blessed with a son named “Yitzchak.”

Yet, the opening passuk of Toldot is “Ve’eileh toldot Yitzchak ben Avraham, Avraham holid et Yitzchak” — “And these are the offspring of Yitzchak the son of Avraham, Avraham begot Yitzchak.”

Not only is this redundant, but over-obvious. If Yitzchak is the son of Avraham, obviously Avraham fathered him? Moreover, if it is not Yitzchak’s genealogy that we are seeking, but rather, to know of his offspring (see Rashi), should it not have said “these are the offspring of Yitzchak — Yaakov and Eisav”? Furthermore, Avraham had two sons, Yishmael and Yitzchak; why at the end of last week’s parshah, Chayei Sarah, does the Torah say “Ve’eileh toldot Yishmael ben Avraham” (25:12) without, repeating “Avraham holid et Yishmael” — “Avraham begot Yishmael” as it does here?

Indeed these questions are not new and Rashi even refers to some of them. However, permit me to share the following explanation.

In contemporary times, psychologists and sociologists have come up with the term “generation gap.” This means that children are very different in their tastes, opinions, and values from their parents.

Children have distanced themselves from their parents because they are “not with the time.” Their parents’ thinking is obsolete and antiquated. They are still living with the “old home” mentality and do not know or accept that things and times have changed. Parents, on the other hand, bemoan their children’s involvement in many things they consider inappropriate or wrong, and say “What can you do? They got caught up in the modern society and way of life.”

In this introductory pasuk, the Torah is telling us the strong relationship between a father and son — Avraham and Yitzchak.

“Yitzchak ben Avraham” emphasizes that Yitzchak took pride in the fact that he was the son of Avraham, and likewise “Avraham holid et Yitzchak” — “Avraham begot Yitzchak” — his greatest pleasure and satisfaction was that he had a son like Yitzchak. His greatest source of nachas was seeing his son Yitzchak as a true keeper of Torah and mitzvot.

The Yishmael-Avraham relationship was quite different, and it can be well illustrated by the following incident:

A story is told of a stranger who entered a “kosher” restaurant and inquired about its kashrut standards. The proprietor directed the visitor to a picture on the wall: “You see that man up there with the long beard and peiyot; he was my father.” The visitor said to him, “If your father with the beard and peiyot were standing here behind the counter and your picture were hanging on the wall, I would not ask any questions. Since the opposite is true, I have doubts and must investigate before I can eat here.”

Likewise, Yishmael, the ancestor of the Arab people, was “ben Avraham.” When he entered certain circles he would take pride in the fact that his father was the great Jewish Rabbi Avraham. Avraham, however, was not proud and happy to have a son such as Yishmael. To him the association was agonizing and heart-breaking.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, I know the effort your parents exerted to bring you to this stage in life. Having observed your beautiful spiritual development over the years and hearing your delivery of the Chassidic ma’amar and pilpul — scholarly Torah words — I have no doubt that you fit the interpretation of Yitzchak ben Avraham. You are indeed happy and fortunate that you have been blessed with such remarkable parents.

My berachah to you is that for the rest of your life you continue in this path and thus, the second half of the pasuk“Avraham holid et Yitzchak” will also apply — your parents will be happy and proud to say that you are their child and a real source of Yiddish and Chassidish nachas to them.


3.

When a pregnant woman experiences unusual pain or difficulty during her pregnancy, the common thing for her to do is to consult her gynecologist or midwife. In this week’s Torah portion it is related that when a young woman named Rivkah felt agitation within her womb, she did not go to any medical professional for advice, but rather, “vateilech lidrosh et Hashem — “she went to inquire of Hashem.”

Rashi explains that she chose this approach because she was not experiencing the common problems or pains associated with pregnancy, but rather, some unique phenomenon that made her greatly concerned. The Torah states that “Vayitrotzatzu habanim bekirbah” — “The children struggled within her” (25:22). The word “vayitrotzatzu” is derived from the root word “ratz,” to run: when Rivkah passed the Torah academy of Shem and Eiver, Yaakov “ran” and struggled to come forth; and when she passed a place of idol worship, Eisav “ran” and struggled to come forth.

Unaware that she was carrying twins who would represent two conflicting ideologies — Israel and Edom — and that their struggle in the womb symbolized the future rivalries between them, she went to Shem, who was a prophet, so that he would ask Hashem the significance of her alarming condition.

Through Shem, it was conveyed to her that she was not carrying a single child who would have a dual personality. She would give birth to two children who would represent two regimes that cannot coexist.

Regarding the children’s battle to emerge from the womb, the famous Chassidic master, Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa (1767-1827), asks an intriguing question. The Gemara (Niddah 30b) says that a Heavenly angel teaches the entire Torah to a child while he is in the mother’s womb. It would seem that Yaakov had the best Rebbi to teach him. If so, why did Yaakov want to run out and leave the angel and go to the yeshivah of Shem and Eiver?

Reb Bunim answered as follows:

In the “yeshivah” in his mother’s womb, his “chaveir” — colleague — would be Eisav. Yaakov was greatly concerned about having good friends. Therefore, he was willing to give up the opportunity learning Torah from an angel in order to go to a yeshivah where he would have good “chaveirim” (other little Yaakovs) and not be in the company of Eisav.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, this is an important lesson for you to take from your Bar Mitzvah parshah and remember throughout your entire life: The key to success begashmiyut uberuchniyut — materially and spiritually — is to be associated with good friends.

To this I would like to add that in Pirkei Avot (1:6), Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah says “ukenei lecha chaveir” — “acquire for yourself a chaveir.” The commentaries note that the word “kenei” can also mean purchase. Thus, the message of the Mishnah is that a chaveir — a friend — is very important and one should even expend much money to gain a good friend.

Bear in mind that a good friend wants good friendship in return, so in a sense the key word is “reciprocity” — give and take. The way to acquire good friends easily is by being a person who people will want to befriend.

I pray that you always remember the advice of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiya. When his teacher Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai asked, “Go and see which is the good way to which a man should cleave?” he said “A good friend” (Avot 2:10).

Following his advice will give your parents much Yiddish nachas and make your parents happy and lucky to have a son such as you.


4.

This week we read about the birth of Yaakov and Eisav. Yaakov eventually became the father of the Jewish people. From his twelve sons evolved the entire Jewish nation. Eisav, on the other hand, was the progenitor of a large portion of humanity. His offspring are antagonistic to the Jews and seek to subjugate us.

Yitzchak’s and Eisav’s different personalities and eternal rivalry were recognizable not only from the moment they emerged from the womb, but rather, they were worlds apart even while in their embryonic state.

Among the differences between them was also the source of their respective names. The Torah relates that “the first one emerged red, entirely like a hairy mantle, vayikre’u — so they named him — Eisav. After that his brother emerged with his hand grasping on the heal of Eisav, vayikra — and he called his name Yaakov” (25:25, 26).

Rashi notes the change of expression concerning the name calling. In regard to Eisav the language is vayikre’u — and they called him — in plural. On the other hand, regarding Yaakov it says vayikra — and he called him — in singular. Rashi goes on to explain that the name Eisav means completely developed. Since all noticed that he had as much hair as a child several years older, they — everyone — called him that.

In contrast to Eisav, who was named by everyone present, “he” named him Yaakov. Since the Torah does not specify who was the “he” that gave him the name, Rashi offers two opinions: either Hashem commanded Yitzchak to give him the name or Yitzchak gave it on his own.

Rashi wrote his commentary with Ruach Hakodesh — Divine Inspiration — (see HaYom Yom, 6 Shevat) and all his words are authentic. Nevertheless, a student may ask, does it not sound strange that Eisav was named by the people rather than his parents? Also, why didn’t all the people proclaim the name of Yaakov as a commemoration of his holding on to the heel?

Therefore, my dear Bar Mitzvah, I would like to share with you a novel homiletical thought.

When a child is born, he or she is given a name. In addition there is the name that a person acquires on his own. It could be based on a unique characteristic of the person or a special area that the person excels in, whether good or evil. At times it may be in honor of an outstanding accomplishment.

With the grammatical distinction noted above, the Torah is not just telling us the name they were given and why; rather, it is conveying the distinct personality traits of Yaakov and Eisav.

Eisav was always concerned about Vayikre’u — “What will they say? What will they call me?” He was the person who seeks only to find favor in the eyes of all, the man seeking to gain popularity with the masses. Eisav’s philosophy was “Mah yomru hagoyim” — “What will the secular world say of me”?

Yaakov on the other hand, cared very little as to what the world has to say. He was best described by the secular prophet and spokesman, Bilaam, who said of the Jewish people (Bamidbar 23:9) “Hein, am levadad yishkon” — “Behold, it is a nation that will dwell in solitude.” That is, the success of the Jewish people lies in the fact that they direct their lives according to the teachings of their Torah. Bilaam continues, “Ubagoyim lo yitchashav” — which can be explained to mean they do not “reckon” (care or worry about) what the nations have to say. Yaakov’s only concern was “vayikra — what will my Father in Heaven — Hashem say — and what will my biological father, Yitzchak, say, what will they call me?”

The message to you, my dear Bar Mitzvah is to emulate the ways of Yaakov Avinu. Your primary concern should always be whether Hashem is happy with your conduct, And whether your parents condone your behavior. In other words, your pursuit should not be to achieve the status of noda bagoyim — someone known and accepted by the alien world — but rather, an acclaimed noda biYehudah, someone known and approved for the high levels you achieved as a proud member of Yehudah — the Jewish people.