Thought Of The Week: 12 November 2015

Written by Writings & Sermons by others — 12 November 2015

Was Isaac a nebbish?  This is the question that comes into my mind every time we reach this period in our Torah readings?  Throughout the story of his life in the Bible it seems that things happen to him – he is such a passive character.  First it’s his father Abraham taking him off to a mountain at God’s command and being prepared to sacrifice his son, only stopping when he’s told to by an angel.  And the story at that point disregards Isaac – initially we’re told that the two of them went together, but as soon as the sacrifice of the ram in his place is completed, the text reverts to the singular and he, Abraham, returned to Be’ersheva.

The next episode in his life that we read about is Abraham arranging Isaac’s marriage – but not with him!  Rather with a servant, who is dispatched to Haran to bring back a cousin for Isaac to marry.  The servant is given the task of ensuring that she is right for Isaac and he prepares a tactical plan, as a result of which Rebecca is encouraged by material things to be Isaac’s bride, but she could have refused.  Isaac, on the other hand, has no say in the matter – all we’re told is that the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done.  The final words of last week’s sidrah, I think, says it all.  “Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, he took Rebecca as his wife.  Isaac loved her and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.”  Isaac was a mummy’s boy who took orders and he found in Rebecca someone to replace his mother, a strong, assertive woman, who knew her own mind.

And this becomes all the more clear when we read in this week’s sidrah the well-known story of how Rebecca, with her son Jacob’s help, tricks Isaac into giving the first-born’s blessing to her favourite son.  Once again Isaac is made to look feeble and a loser. But even before this episode, the Torah tells of two other events.  First, as in the time of his father, there is a famine in the land.  God tells him not to leave for Egypt, but to stay in Canaan, so he goes to the city of G’rar, where he tells people that Rebecca is his sister.  Later, he reopen the wells that Abraham had originally dug, but which had been stopped up and he gives them the same names.  Everything he does is a rerun of his father’s life, no originality, no individuality, no innovation.  It is only when his servants dig new wells that he provides a name for them, based on the situation at the time.

Yet, despite all this, he prospers.  The king of G’rar sends him away saying “Go away from us, for you have become far too big for us.”  His planting reaps a hundredfold; he acquires flocks and herds and a large household; he becomes very wealthy; he is blessed by God.  So much so that the king of G’rar comes to make a non-aggression pact with him.  And Isaac, in his usual passive way, responds by making a feast.

What are we to make of a man who is regarded as one of the three patriarchs, yet really seems to be nothing more than a bridge linking Abraham with Jacob?  Wouldn’t it seem more appropriate, historically, to pray to the God of Abraham, Rebecca and Jacob?  Perhaps we’re being asked to recognise that leaders come in all shapes and sizes; that’s it’s not always the ones who make the loudest noise that we should follow; that acceptance of God’s path for us, even if it appears less exciting than we might like, is a virtue; that ensuring continuity is as important as innovation.