And these are the generations (Toldos) of Yitzchok the son of Avraham; Avraham begot Yitzchok. (Breishis 25:19)
And Yitzchok dwelt in Gerar. And the men of the place asked about his wife, and he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “[She is] my wife,” [because he said,] “Lest the men of the place kill me because of Rivka, for she is of comely appearance.” (Breishis 26:6-7)
My wife and I went to the Carlebach Shul in Manhattan a few years ago for a Shabbaton. It was Parshas Toldos. Shabbos morning the reader of the Torah was late in coming and so the Rabbi was stalling for time by peppering the crowd with brief but interesting Torah thoughts. It was not quite a speech and it was spontaneous so I was looking in a Sefer and listening with half an ear. Then he asked a question that tickled my interest slightly.
How come Parshas Toldos is called, “Toldos”? It should rightfully be called “Yitzchok”. The Parsha begins, “Eleh toldos Yitzchok… These are the generations of Yitzchok…”. After all, Parshas Noach begins the same way, “Eleh toldos Noach… These are the generations of Noach” and the Parsha is titled “Noach”. So, either both should be Toldos or one should be Noach and the other should be Yitzchok. Why then is one Noach and the other one Toldos!?
Again, I was tickled by the question. Then the Rabbi dropped a diamond, not a dime, but a diamond! My eyes were opened to a very valuable insight. Noach was a grand historical personality. “These are the generation of Noach, Noach…”, but Noach produced Noach, alone! That’s a great accomplishment. He is titled perfect Tzadik in his time. He was a man, the man of that generation, of his time. So, he is the focus of that Parsha and it is therefore appropriate to call it after him, Noach!
When it comes to the Avos, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov the story is different. They may be fascinating personalities and it is terribly interesting to learn about them and from them but it’s not about them. They didn’t live for themselves.
They were walking in wet cement and paving the way for us, for all future generations. It’s not about them! It’s about Toldos! Good Jewish parents don’t live for themselves. They live for Toldos. WOW!
That they and we live for Toldos is both good news and bad news. How so? There’s an idea that the Ramban speaks about called, “Maaseh Avos Siman L’Banim”- “What the Avos did is a foreshadowing for the children. Avraham was forced to go down to Egypt because of a famine and so was Yaakov. Yitzchok was not allowed to leave Israel but he also had to relocate because of a famine. There are too many parallel experiences to spell out here. Mark Twain once said, “History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme.” By the Avos and the Banim it seems to repeat itself and rhyme!
I once heard from Rabbi Nota Schiller, the Dean of Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem, an amazing thought on this subject. He was speaking at a large Yeshiva dinner in New York and there were many not so Torah oriented jews in the audience. He threaded the needle with a surgeon’s precision. He said he always wondered what was the Maaseh Avos Siman L’Banim that two of the three Avos, both Avraham and Yitzchok needed to curb the truth about their relationship with their wife and declare, due to safety concerns, that their wife was their sister.
He said that he felt that in later generations and in large part because we find ourselves in hostile territory, Jews would downplay the true relationship that we have with Torah and declare to the peoples around that it is our sister. These are our customs and this is our lifestyle but not much more.
Some, perhaps too many, would begin to believe that that is the extent of our connection. A brother – sister relationship is beautiful and friendly but it is not intimate and it produces no Toldos. Apologizing for our fealty, our fidelity to Torah would have a chilling effect on our Torah living and on future generations.
So, the good news is that they and we are living for Toldos and challenging news is that they and we are living for Toldos.