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Thursday, 16 November, 2017 - 8:21 pm

A teen approached his dad: “Pa, I have a date Saturday night... but I ran out of my allowance. Could you, you know, advance me a little bit of next week’s allowance?”

“How much?”

“Well Pa, today you take out a girl, you need $200.”

The father gave his son the cash.

“Pa,” said the son, “today you can’t take a girl on the bus or subway, and you can’t walk... can I borrow the car?”

“Sure. Take the car,” said the dad.

“Pa, just one more thing. That new sports jacket you bought is a real beauty. I'd look smashing in it. Can I wear it?”

“Sure, sure, take the sports jacket, the car, and the money.” As his son walked out, the dad called, “Have a good time, son.”

The kid turned around and replied, “Pa, don’t tell me what to do.”

The opening words of this week’s Torah 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 Torah identifies Isaac as “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 as the son of Abraham, but it does not say that Abraham was Ishmael's father, though he fathered both sons. Why the difference?

Often, we encounter a “generation gap”—parents and children 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.

In its less severe form, 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 child may be embarrassed by his old man, but the father is so proud of his child!

(Mark Twain quipped: “When I was 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished how much he had learned in seven years.)

Alternatively, children may revere their parents, while the parents are disappointed in their children.

A son or daughter may take deep pride in a father, but the father is pained by the lifestyle of his kin.

By using the different wording, the Torah is telling us that, in the case of the first two generations of Jews, there was no “gap.” Despite the fact that they embodied two very different approaches to life, Isaac sensed that everything he was and had derived from Abraham, while Abraham saw in Isaac the fulfillment and realization of his deepest self.

Isaac was proud to say: Look who my father is. He loved “showing off” that he was “Yitchak ben Avraham,” Abraham’s son. And Abraham? "Abraham fathered Isaac.” He was deeply proud to say that he was Isaac's father!

Ishmael was “the son of Abraham.” He was very proud of his father. Abraham was a legend in his day. Ishmael was privy to a lot due to his father. After all, Abraham was a 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 (Judaism), then the child is proud to be a member of this family, to have such a father and mother, and parents are full of joy at having such children. They walk together.

A woman asked for the Kosher certification in a deli.

"Don't worry about it!" said the owner.

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

The man pointed to a black-and-white photo hanging on the wall. "You see that?" he asked, gesturing to the angelic face of an old man with a long white beard, a big Kippah on his head, engrossed in Talmud study. "That was my father!"

"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 Kosher certification."

When describing Abraham's and Isaac's trip to the Akeida (binding of Isaac by the altar), the Torah says they both walked together. It was incredible: The G-d who gave Abraham a son was telling him to sacrifice Isaac now, and the two walked together.

On the way they conversed. Isaac said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “G-d himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Then, as if to emphasize the trust between father and son, and between them and G-d, the text repeats: The two of them 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 called “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, and 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. When we lose family, we eventually lose all else. Sanctify the family, and we have something more precious than wealth, power, or success: The love between generations. This is G-d's greatest gift to us.

It is not always easy to walk together. Sometimes children choose things that are difficult for parents. Sometimes we are very different from our parents and have issues with them. Nonetheless, the Torah is teaching us that both parents and children need to always work on their relationships with each other. We must carve out space in our hearts to always remain connected with our children, and our parents.

Rabbi Kaminetzky's granddaughter escorted him on a flight and attended to his needs during the duration. A secular Jewish professor sat nearby, and the two naturally got into a major debate over the question of evolution. The professor insisted that we have evolved from apes while the rabbi insisted we were created by G-d.

In middle of the flight, upon witnessing the endless dedication and honor that the granddaughter showed Rabbi Kaminetzky, the neighboring professor asked him: “How is it that your children and grandchildren treat you with such respect? My children treat me with little or no respect. I need to BEG them to quit a computer game and bring me a cup of water.”

Rabbi Kaminetzky responded that this made perfect sense based on their ongoing debate. If you teach your children evolution, then they will view themselves as being higher evolved than you. You are closer to monkeys than they. Your father was even closer to the apes, your great-great-great-grandfather was an ape, and his grandfather was bacteria…. Consequently, your children will not respect you.

In Judaism however, we teach our children that the earlier generations are higher evolved than we are. The earlier generations are closer to the experience at Mount Sinai and are to be revered. My father was closer to Moshe, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and to Adam and Eve, created by G-d Himself. As a result, my grandchildren treat me with respect.

In his diaries and talks, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (1880–1950), often describes the relationship with and education from his father, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneerson (1860–1920).

In one of his diaries he shares this story. For me, it captures education.

It was the summer of 1896, and father and I were strolling in the fields of Balivka, a hamlet near Lubavitch. The grain was near to ripening, and the wheat and grass swayed gently in the breeze.

Said father to me: “See G-dliness! Every movement of each stalk and grass was included in G-d’s Primordial Thought of Creation, in G-d’s all-embracing vision of history, and is guided by divine providence toward a G-dly purpose.”

Walking, we entered the forest. Engrossed in what I had heard, excited by the softness and seriousness of Father’s words, I absentmindedly tore a leaf off a tree. Holding it a while in my hands, I continued my thoughtful walking, occasionally tearing small pieces of leaf and casting them to the winds.

“The Holy Ari,” said Father to me, “says that not only is every leaf on a tree a creation invested with divine life, created for a specific purpose within G‑d’s intent in creation, but also that within each and every leaf is a spark of a soul that has descended to earth to find its correction and fulfillment.

“The Talmud,” Father continued, “rules that ‘a man is always responsible for his actions, whether awake or asleep.’ The difference between wakefulness and sleep is in the inner faculties of man, his intellect and emotions. The external faculties function equally well in sleep; only the inner faculties are confused. So, dreams present us with contradictory truths. A waking man sees the real world; a sleeping man does not. This is the deeper significance of wakefulness and sleep: when one is awake, one sees divinity; when asleep, one does not.

“Nevertheless, our sages maintain that man is always responsible for his actions, whether awake or asleep. Only this moment we have spoken of divine providence, and unthinkingly you tore off a leaf, played with it in your hands, twisting, squashing and tearing it to pieces, throwing it in all directions.

“How can one be so callous towards a creation of G‑d? This leaf was created by the Almighty towards a specific purpose, and is imbued with a divine life-force. It has a body, and it has its life. In what way is the ‘I’ of this leaf inferior to yours?”

That is real love and education.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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