A NOBODY? by Rabbi Baruch Cohon

This week we read a section called Toldos Yitzhok – literally, the history of Isaac.  Very quickly we see that Isaac, the second of our patriarchs, is described in terms of other people.  He is the son of Abraham, the husband of Rebecca, the father of Jacob and Esau.  And who is he?

To quote my uncle of blessed memory, Rabbi Beryl D. Cohon of Boston, this history could be called the portrait of a Nobody.   

Let’s see.  Does Isaac really have no importance?  Certainly he carries forward a spark of Abraham’s inspiration.  Just as certainly he finds love and fulfillment in his union with Rebecca. Like his father before him, he has two sons who are quite different from each other, and he will have a crisis over which one to call his real heir.

Unlike his father, he gets a direct message from G-d only twice.  Once, he is told to stay in Canaan despite hard times, and not to go to Egypt, because this land of Canaan will belong to him and his descendants as G-d promised Abraham.  The second Divine vision comes in a dream and gives him a blessing, and when he gets up he builds an altar and has his men dig a well.   By contrast, Abraham had many one-on-ones with the Almighty.  Is Isaac less holy?

Morris Adler, a rabbinical scholar of the last century, asks “What did Isaac do?  He preserved a tradition; he held onto it; he received it and he was loyal to it.  In a world of constant change, in a world where new fashions are sought and new habits constantly arise, in a world that never stops for a moment in its fluctuations, Isaac is not simply a negative character.  He is the son of Abraham and the father of Jacob.  He kept the chain that was handed to him… In all of his actions a tradition was preserved.”

Without Isaac the Jewish people would not exist.  All through the centuries, individual Jews proudly bear his name.  You and I and many others can identify with him if we link generations.  To tend the flame of continuity is our mission.  Family traditions, religious traditions, national traditions all bring pride and meaning to our lives.  We who bear those traditions and add to them and pass them on are carrying on Isaac’s work.

Read his biography again.  It’s in Genesis, chapter 25:19 through 28:9.  Isaac’s story is the portrait of a Somebody.


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2 Responses to A NOBODY? by Rabbi Baruch Cohon

  1. Shira Israel-Levin says:

    I would add that it is imperative with the threats Israel faces today to proclaim it is Isaac
    and not Ismail that the land of Canaan was promised to. That it is Isaac’s descendents
    and not Ismail’s descendents. G-d doesn’t change His mind and therefore the promise
    He gave still holds true today. It is the Jewish people who are the descendents of
    Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the Land of Israel belongs.

  2. Marthajoy Aft says:

    Quite interesting to me. Of course, we understand that every Jew is somebody important, and Isaac is no exception. He is the model of the priest in ancient times, passing the tradition on as he has received it. Although he is not a prophet, he is important in maintaining our people’s existence. That is important work, too!

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