Pick­ing a fa­vorite among the pa­tri­archs

Greenwich Time - - NEWS - By Rabbi Mitchell M. Hurvitz

Which of the Pa­tri­archs is your fa­vorite: Abra­ham, Isaac or Ja­cob?

Abra­ham and Ja­cob get a lot of “screen time,” and poor Isaac is rarely heard from within the text of our To­rah.

The first To­rah “scene” doesn’t have a lot to say about Isaac other than not­ing that his birth is the cat­a­lyst for Ha­gar, and his half-brother Ish­mael, to be cast out from the fam­ily home of Abra­ham and Sarah.

The next big “scene” is the Akedah — the story of the Bind­ing of Isaac. But Isaac is al­most like a “hu­man prop” in the Akedah story. The ab­so­lute fo­cus is on Abra­ham, not Isaac, who doesn’t even get to say one word within this nar­ra­tive.

Next “scene” is the ar­ranged mar­riage nar­ra­tive be­tween Isaac and Re­becca. Here, Isaac re­ceives a few lines by which he is al­lowed to ar­tic­u­late his own voice — with six whole verses out of the nar­ra­tive of 67 verses.

Fi­nally, we ar­rive to the To­rah Por­tion of Toldot, and it looks like Isaac might fi­nally play a real pa­tri­ar­chal role for our peo­ple.

In­stead, the To­rah opens “Isaac’s story” by play­ing up that he is merely the “son of Abra­ham.” The verse read­ing: “This is the story of Isaac, son of Abra­ham; Abra­ham fa­thered Isaac.”

Poor Isaac, he’s only re­ally im­por­tant be­cause of his fa­ther, fur­ther proven be­cause Isaac only re­ceives one chap­ter of To­rah be­fore the full fo­cus is turned to his twin sons; Ja­cob and Esau; and their sub­se­quent “bat­tles.”

So Isaac doesn’t even reach “co-star” sta­tus; he’s just the bi­b­li­cal char­ac­ter that seem­ingly helps keep the story of Abra­ham and Ja­cob strong. Isaac is “just there” — a pres­ence with­out any ap­par­ent great in­di­vid­ual im­por­tance.

And, yet, I fully pro­claim that for me Isaac is the best of the pa­tri­archs, and my per­sonal fa­vorite. I am strength­ened in this per­sonal con­vic­tion be­cause of the “can­on­ized” rab­binic lit­er­a­ture that is part of our midrash.

An­cient midrash teaches that Isaac was al­ways des­tined for great­ness; that when Isaac was born all of God’s uni­verse cel­e­brated his birth. Isaac’s birth was a mir­a­cle; a mother who should have been too old to bear her first child. The midrash fur­ther as­serts that Isaac would grow up to be the par­a­digm of real faith and courage.

When the Akedah oc­curs the To­rah teaches that Isaac was 37 years old; not a mere child but a fully grown adult who un­der­stood that he was to die as a sac­ri­fice, and yet he voices not an ut­ter­ance of protest to his fa­ther or to God.

The midrash de­scribes Isaac as the first per­son to pray every day; a per­son who was con­tent with sim­ply be­ing a good God-fear­ing Jew.

Un­like his fa­ther, Abra­ham, or his son Ja­cob, Isaac never de­parts from the “Promised Land” for any rea­son. He is con­tent to be where God wants him to be.

I like Isaac the most be­cause he is the pa­tri­arch that the re­li­gious per­son re­ally wants to be; a prac­tic­ing Jew who cares not for grand at­ten­tions, merely sat­is­fied to have a quiet, pi­ous re­la­tion­ship with God.

One may al­most con­sider Isaac to be a bi­b­li­cal foil or straight-man for all the more charis­matic, in­ter­est­ing bi­b­li­cal per­son­ages around him.

Yet, I view this ret­i­cence as Isaac’s “Every­man” qual­ity.

While some peo­ple re­ally iden­tify with the courage and ad­vo­cacy of Abra­ham, or the strug­gling with self and God of Ja­cob, or the pas­sion and art of David, or the hu­mil­ity and for­bear­ance of Moses, most of us can truly step into the shoes of Isaac, one who tries to be sim­ply a good Jew, rev­er­ent to God, rais­ing our fam­i­lies, car­ing for oth­ers, de­vel­op­ing our spir­i­tual re­la­tion­ship, sus­tain­ing our losses, mind­ful of our place in the world, keep­ing tra­di­tion, and fi­nally; al­though his hu­mor is not high­lighted; his name, mean­ing laugh­ter, re­minds us to keep that in our lives as well.

May the Isaac in all of us keep our lives feel­ing real, con­nected to God, and en­joy­ing the laugh­ter!

Rabbi Mitchell M. Hurvitz is se­nior rabbi at Tem­ple Sholom of Green­wich, co-founder of the Sholom Cen­ter for In­ter­faith Learn­ing and Fel­low­ship and pres­i­dent of the Green­wich Fel­low­ship of Clergy. For an ar­chive of past columns, visit www.tem­plesholom.com

Rabbi Mitchell Hurvitz

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