12 Nov 2015

Toledot 5776: Carpe Diem

Toledot 5776: Carpe Diem

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


Although we do not know as much about his life and personality as we do of Abraham and Yaakob’s, Yitshak is the most enigmatic and unique of the forefathers. Yitshak’s life is relatively unremarkable save for one extraordinary occurrence: he was bound by his father and put up on an altar to be sacrificed. Yitshak expected his life to end there but it didn’t; he was spared and, as one might expect, as he stepped down to live another day, his perspective on life had completely changed.

Yitshak’s life continues in quite a normal fashion. He never leaves the land of Canaan[1], he marries[2], has children[3] and has a bit of a business dispute over some real estate[4]. He does not have a life full of the adventures of his father Abraham or his son Yaakob.

But it is precisely his ordinary life that on a certain level speaks most deeply to us. Almost dying at the sudden command of G-d taught Yitshak that life is not a given. He recognised that when we are born we are presented with no guarantees. We are not promised a particular number of days nor are we assured of their quality. We are simply given the life, be it long or short, and left to make of it what we will.

Yitshak became keenly aware that every day of his life was a gift, therefore, he focused deeply on his regular activities and his close relationships. His life was not punctuated by grand happenings; it was grounded in daily investments.

Yitshak’s relationships and simple human activities became particularly important to his life in a way that we do not see with his father Abraham. The word ‘love’ first appears in the Torah in connection with Yitshak in describing his feelings for his wife Rivka[5]. We are not only told that he loved her but also that he would not build a family with any other woman[6].

His wife was sterile, and Yitshak pleaded with God for her sake.… (25:21)

— He prayed, ‘Master of the Universe! Any children that You give me should please come only from this woman! (Bereshit Rabba 63:5)

When Yitshak must consider which of his children will take the mantle of leadership for the future generation he does not seek to do so with ceremony or fanfare. Instead, it is over an intimate meal requested, presented and enjoyed with love.

[Yitshak] said: ‘My son!…I have grown old, I do not know the day of my death. Now please…go out into the field and hunt me some game and make me a delicacy, such as I love; bring it to me, and I will eat it, that I may give you my own blessing before I die. (27:2-4)

The challenge of focusing on the intricacies of the human routine is a significant one to those who are drawn towards achieving greatness. The personal relationships and interactions with family and friends, the tasks that we accept in the morning and hope to finish before bed, the phone calls, emails and simple greetings all stand before many of us as obstacles. But Yitshak understood that while these small moments may not be glamorous, they make up the fabric of our lives.

The Hakhamim tell us that it will be the merit of Yitshak that will stand for us at the time of our final redemption[7]. The dedication to love, human grace and connection to G-d through everyday interactions are the attributes of our middle forefather. These attributes provide the vital cohesion between the all-embracing Abraham and the nation building Yaakob. Yitshak’s life presents to us the sweetness, joy and appreciation of the everyday.

[1] 26:2-3

[2] 25:16

[3] 26:24-26

[4] 27:20

[5] 25:16

[6] This is contrary to his father Abraham who agreed to have children with Sarah’s maid-servant, Hagar.

[7] Shabbat, 89b