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ב"ה

FATHER AND SON

Thursday, 4 November, 2021 - 11:18 pm

Mark Twain quipped: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.

 

The opening words of this week’s portion, Toldot, are strangely enigmatic:

 

And these are the chronicles of Isaac the son of Abraham; Abraham fathered Isaac.

 

Many dwell on the repetitious phrasing of this verse: if “the son of Abraham,” what is added by informing us that “Abraham fathered Isaac”?

 

The question becomes more striking, when we compare this verse to the Torah’s description, just a few verses earlier, of Abraham and his other son, Ishmael.

 

And these are the children of Ishmael the son of Abraham...

 

Ishmael is described here as the son of Abraham. But it does not say that Abraham was the father of Ishmael. Why the difference?

 

And then we have this description, yet a few verses earlier, about Abraham and his other sons:

 

Abraham married a woman and her name is Keturah. She gave birth to Zimran, Yakshan… All of these are the children of Ketura.

 

Here Abraham’s name is not mentioned at all. Not that he was their father, nor that they were his children. It just says, they were the children of his wife Keturah.

 

Often, we encounter a “generation gap”—parents and children in conflict with each other because they hold different world views and measure their lives against different value systems; or because they have emotional issues with each other.

 

At times, the mistrust is reciprocal. If you will talk to the son or daughter, he or she is embarrassed with their father. Nor can the father gaze at his son’s behavior and take pride in the fact that he is his son.

 

In its less severe forms, it might be one-sided: the parents might be proud of their children’s achievements, while the children scorn the “primitiveness” and “backwardness” of their parents.

 

A father once told me that his young son came to him and said, “Pa, I have a date Saturday night.” “Good,” says the father. “Who’s going to stand in the way? A young man has a date.”

 

“But I have problems,” says the son. “I ran out of my allowance. Maybe you could kind of, you know, advance me a little bit of next week’s allowance?” “How much?”

 

“Well Pa, today you take out a girl, you need $700.”

 

Anyway, the father advances the son on his allowance. But it’s not enough. “Pa,” says the son, “today you can’t take a girl on the bus or the subway, and you can’t walk on the street... so can I borrow the car?”

 

“Pa, just one more thing. That new sports jacket you bought,” he says, “I spotted it and it’s a real beauty. Dad, I’ll look like a smash. Can I wear it?”

 

“Sure, sure take the sports jacket, take the car. Here’s $700.” And as the son is leaving, the father says to him, “Have a good time, son.”

 

And the kid turns around and says, “Pa, don’t tell me what to do.”

 

Alternatively, the children might revere their parents, while their parents are disappointed in their children’s behavior.

 

So the Torah is telling us that, in the case of the first two generations of Jews, there was no “gap”: Isaac had no reservations about being “the son of Abraham,” while Abraham no less readily identified himself as the father of Isaac. Despite the fact that they embodied two very different approaches to life, Isaac sensed that everything he is and has derived from Abraham, while Abraham saw in Isaac the fulfillment and realization of his deepest self.

Isaac was super proud to walk around and say: look who my father is. He loved “showing off” that he is Abraham’s son. He could not be prouder of the fact of who his father is.

 

And Abraham? “Abraham fathered Isaac.” He was so deeply proud that say that he is the father of Isaac!

 

How about Yishmael? Ah! “Yishamel was the son of Abraham.” He was so proud of his father. He walked around telling the world what a special Father he had. It brought him special joy and probably special privileges. Abraham was a legend in his day. Yishmael can get it to all types of places due to his father. After all, Abraham was the paragon of love and kindness.

 

But his father was not always proud of him. Ishmael was the son of Abraham. But the Torah does not say the converse.

 

The Torah is teaching us how Jewish families are created and nurtured. When we infuse our children with a love for Torah, a dedication to family, love, morality, values, faith, and Yiddishkeit, then the child is so proud to be a member of this family, to have such a father and mother, and parents are so full of joy of having such children. They walk together.

 

"But how do I know if it's kosher?" she asked.

 

"Look," said the woman, "If it was the other way around - if he was behind the counter and your picture was on the wall - I wouldn't ask for the kashrut certificate."

 

That is part of what the Torah means when it describes Abraham and Isaac walking to the Akeida. They both walked together.

 

Father and son felt a sacred bond. Abraham looked at Isaac and his eyes teared up with deep love and connection. Isaac looked at Abraham and felt fortunate that this was the man he can call “father.” What bonded them was not the same disposition or nature; they were very different people. what united them was their shared commitment to truth, their loyalty to G-d, their dedication to kindness, morality, and living a life that matters.

 

The first Jewish parent, Abraham, and the first Jewish child, Isaac, walked together toward an unknown future, their fears stilled by their faith.

 

Film critic, author, and radio host Michael Medved published this article in the New York Post:

A few weeks ago, my six-year-old daughter did something that greatly upset one of my professional colleagues. At the same time, it made her father enormously proud.

 

It happened when I took her to a television taping. While I answered questions, my daughter chatted with the show's associate producer, a bright, capable TV veteran I've known for nearly a decade. This producer seemed especially delighted; she fussed and cooed over Sarah's hair, ribbons, and frilly dress, then brought her colored pens, blank paper, and glasses of orange juice.

 

When I finished my interview, I saw that my daughter had also received a large imported chocolate bar in gold foil wrapping. "Daddy, look what Cindy gave to me!" she said proudly. "But I didn't open it because maybe I think it's not kosher. Will you look and see and check if it's okay?"

 

My daughter was hoping against hope that I'd detect some excuse in the fine print on the wrapper that she hadn't been able to find, but the absence of any visible certification created a problem. "I'm sorry, Sarah," I said, handing it back to her after a careful search. "I just don't see any kosher mark."

 

My six-year-old looked crestfallen for just a moment, but quickly recovered and bravely passed the bar back to the lady who had given it to her. "Thank you," she said with a shy smile, "I'm sorry I can't eat it."

 

Worst of all, Cindy believed that this sick, authoritarian emphasis on kosher minutiae would cripple my child's ability to reach decisions for herself and would make her grow up feeling different from other kids.

 

It's hard to believe that Cindy would have responded in the same emotional way had Sarah given up the chocolate bar for some other reason because it was too fattening, for example, or too high in cholesterol. It was precisely the religious basis for the sacrifice that made it seem so irrational and unwholesome.

 

This is one aspect of the so-called "culture war" that is seldom noted: in the same way that traditional believers are occasionally appalled by what they consider the heedless indulgence of secular America, secularists are often horrified by what they perceive as the pointless restraints and rituals of religion.

 

I can think of no more valuable gift I can give my children than equipping them to resist the pressure of their peers and to fight the all-powerful adolescent instinct to go along with the crowd.

 

In short, I'm proud of my Sarah. There's an out-of-fashion, still useful word that can be applied to the trait she displayed.

 

They used to call it character.

 

Shabbat Shalom and a happy New month of Kislev,

 

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

 

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