The Ancient Paths

Parashat Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

Parashat Toldot gives us the backstory of the conflict between Jacob and Esau. It tells of their birth in the account of Jacob coming out with one hand holding onto Esau’s heel, Esau selling his birthright, and Jacob receiving the blessing of the firstborn from Isaac (albeit in an underhanded manner). It also gives us some interesting information about Isaac and his life. When he settled in Gerar, he needed a source of water. Rather than digging new wells, he unearthed the wells his father had dug:

And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. (Genesis 26:18)

Midrash HaGadol says that from these events we learn the humility of Isaac. How so? Rather than digging new wells or renaming the ones his father dug, Isaac reopened his father’s wells and gave them the same names that his father had given them. Isaac wasn’t concerned about making a name for himself. He was concerned only about preserving the name of his father amid the peoples of the land. This kind of attitude is rare, especially in our day.

When children leave the nest and journey out on their own, most often their mission is to make a name for themselves. And, as they get older, they begin to think of ways to create some kind of legacy to immortalize themselves. The ancient pharaohs of Egypt built pyramids in an attempt to maintain their memory in this life as they passed to the next, and in a sense they have. We still have these pyramids and speak the names of many of these Egyptian kings to this day. Kings and rulers have been betrayed (and even murdered) by their own sons and daughters because of their hunger for power and fame. The egocentric seed within the heart of man often blossoms to bring forth its fruit at the expense of the ones from whom that very life was given. The prophet Malachi, however, foresaw a day in which this propensity would come to an end:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. (Malachi 3:23–24 [4:5–6])

The actions of Isaac in Parashat Toldot foreshadow this prophetic future and give us a glimpse of a time when the hearts of parents and children are turned toward one another. As we have previously mentioned, Parashat Toldot begins with an unusual statement: “These are the generations [Hebrew: toldot] of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham fathered Isaac” (Genesis 25:19). The toldot, or legacy, of Isaac was that he was an identical image of his father, Abraham, both physically and spiritually. He received his character from his father. Abraham had another, older son, Ishmael. But Ishmael didn’t inherit the blessings and covenant from his father. Isaac was the true heir to the covenant God made with his father, as it says, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named” (Genesis 21:12). His heart was toward his father and his father’s heart was toward him.

Although Isaac was a foreshadowing of the prophetic events revealed to the prophet, Malachi, how will this reality be made manifest in the future? The Gospels record for us the calling of John the Immerser as spoken by the angel Gabriel:

He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. (Luke 1:16–17)

How did John accomplish this mission? Through his gospel proclamation: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Those who heeded this good news repented from their ways, and God renewed their hearts, causing their hearts to be properly oriented toward both God and man. The same is true today. If true repentance takes place, it will produce the fruit of righteousness. Where are we on this timeline today? Are our children growing closer to us and our spiritual fathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), or are they growing more distant? May we fully accept the gospel message of repentance so that our generation will have a heart for the fathers and our fathers for them.