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Toldos: Reaching Higher and Higher

ואלה תולדות יצחק בן אברהם אברהם הוליד את יצחק.

“And these are the children of Yitzchak, the son of Avrohom; Avrohom gave birth to Yitzchak.”(Bereishis 25:19)

There are several questions on this verse:

1) The verse starts with the word “v’eila” – and these. Rashi comments on the same word when it appears in Mishpatim that v’eila increases on what has been said before. How does this verse increase on what has been said? Did Yitzchak have more children, other than the ones who are mentioned in this parsha? Since this isn’t the case, then what does v’eila refer to?

2) The Torah does not list Yitzchak’s children immediately after this verse. In Parshas Noach the Torah also says, “These are the children of Noach,” without listing his children right away. Rashi comments there that “the children of the righteous are their good deeds.” In this parsha, Rashi comments that the verse refers to Yaakov and Eisav who will be mentioned further along. Why does Rashi comment differently on these two similar verses?

3) Why does the verse mention Yitzchak’s father? Even more puzzling is the Torah’s seemingly superfluous statement that Avrohom gave birth to Yitzchak, when Yitzchak is being referred to as Avrohom’s son in the same verse.

There is a story about Rav Saadya Gaon from which we can learn an important lesson. A disciple of Rav Saadya Gaon once saw his Rebbe performing gilgul sheleg (rolling in freezing snow – a form of afflicting oneself as a means of repentance). The disciple was shocked to see his Rebbe subject himself to such harsh personal punishment and he cried out, “Rebbe, why are you doing this? I know that you are righteous, so why do you afflict yourself?”

Rav Saadya replied: “I traveled to another city and went to a guesthouse to rent a room. The innkeeper didn’t know who I was, and he welcomed me nicely. He gave me a regular room and treated me just like he treats all of his guests. Some time later, the townspeople found out that I was at the inn, and they came running to see me. The innkeeper found out who I was and he was greatly distressed about the manner in which he welcomed me. He fell to his knees in front of me and begged for my forgiveness, explaining that he had no idea who I was. The innkeeper didn’t hurt me or treat me with disrespect, yet he begged my forgiveness because by treating me just like any other person, he felt that he slighted my honor.

“I thought to myself that when I serve Hashem, I reach a deeper understanding of His infinite greatness each day anew. And the more I understand His supreme greatness, the more I realize that my past service of Hashem was unfitting, and therefore can be considered a slight to Hashem’s honor. This is the reason for my repentance – I am doing tshuva for the way I served Hashem until now.”

With this in mind, we can interpret the verse as follows: “And these are the children of Yitzchak.” Rashi says in Parshas Noach that the children of tzaddikim are their good deeds. This verse can therefore be understood as referring to Yitzchak’s good deeds. The word “v’eila” is telling us that Yitzchak constantly increased his good deeds. Each day he reached a deeper understanding of Hashem’s greatness and therefore, what was considered proper avodas Hashem the day before was no longer acceptable to him on the following day. Yitzchak constantly did tshuva for his previous inferior service of Hashem and strove to grow even closer to his Creator each day.

Who taught him how to reach for greater heights each day? His father Avrohom taught him by example, and Yitzchak followed in his footsteps.

There is a poignant story about the holy tzaddikim, the Sanzer Rav and Rebbe Shalom of Kaminke, who traveled together to their Rebbe in Ropshitz. On the way to their Rebbe, these two great disciples did tshuvaand searched their deeds. When they arrived, their holy Rebbe sensed the intense preparations they made and he was inspired by them to go even higher in his own avodas Hashem. As he stood their thinking thoughts of tshvua, his great disciples were inspired by him to become even greater as well. This pattern continued again and again, as the Rebbe and his disciples went higher and higher, sensing how much more there is to go and how much more they can accomplish.

Rebbe Akiva said: “I have learned much from my teachers, and even more from my peers, and from my disciples more than all of them.” Rebbe Akiva had talmidim such as Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, Rebbe Yehuda, Rebbe Yosi, and the other great sages. He saw their greatness and in his humility he thought that he is unworthy to be their Rebbe. He constantly learned from them, thereby growing even more and becoming even more elevated. This in turn inspired his disciples, creating a pattern of tshuva and increasing greatness all around.

The same thing also went on between Avrohom and Yitzchak. Yitzchak looked up to his great father and saw how much there is to learn from him, and how much he can grow in avodas Hashem by emulating him. The more he grew, the more Avrohom became inspired to grow even further. Each time they met, they inspired each other to become greater and even more elevated. Avrohom would think that he is already old and yet he did not reach certain levels that Yitzchak reached in his youth. He would strengthen himself even more, discounting his previous recognition of Hashem and doing tshuva for not serving Hashem properly before. When Yitzchak saw how his elderly father is still growing and elevating himself, he became inspired to follow his example. The Torah says about them, “And the two of them were going together.” They kept on going, without stopping, never feeling as if they arrived to their destination. They kept on going higher and higher each day.

“And these are the children of Yitzchak.” Rashi comments that this refers to Yakov and Eisav, who are mentioned later in the parsha. A person who strives to become closer to Hashem like Yakov feels that until yesterday he was like Eisav - that his avodas Hashem was severely lacking and by far unfitting. He is inspired to grow each day anew. Yakov and Eisav were brothers, children of the same father, yet there was a deep chasm between them. Likewise, the tzaddik sees a tremendous difference between the way that he served Hashem the day before and the new level of understanding that he reached today.

“Yitzchak was the son of Avrohom; Avrohom gave birth to Yitzchak.” As mentioned before, Yitzchak learned from Avrohom, and used this inspiration to become even greater. Avrohom in turn strove higher as well, which caused him to “give birth” again to Yitzchak’s great deeds, as Yitzchak reached a higher level of serving Hashem.

May Hashem give us the strength and the wisdom to continue growing in our understanding of His greatness and His wonderful kindness to us. May we be connected to Hashem each and every moment, and strive to become closer to Him each day anew. This will inspire us to do tshuva on our past deeds and reach a higher level of avodas Hashem. Likewise, may Hashem in turn continue to increase His kindness to us. He should bless each Jew with his every need, and help those who are in need of a yeshua or refuah. May we all merit greeting Moshiach speedily, in our days, Amen.

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