Parshat Toldot: Start Digging
Rabbanit Sally Mayer is the Rosh Midrasha of Midreshet Lindenbaum‘s Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas Program
This week’s parsha describes the life of Yitzchak, and begins with a strange pasuk, “This is the story of Yitzchak, the son of Avraham: Avraham begot Yitzchak.” The second half of the pasuk should have talked about Yitzchak’s children, or at least something that he did. Apparently, the summary of Yitzchak is: Avraham. And indeed, as we go through the rest of the parsha, Yitzchak does not really innovate anything. Avraham dug wells and found flowing water; Yitzchak digs those same wells again, after the Plishtim filled them with earth after Avraham’s death.
Rav Adin Steinsaltz points out in his sefer “Hayyei Olam” on the parsha that this is a great challenge for all of us: The challenge of following and continuing, and not only being the innovator, the leader. It’s difficult to dig a well, but if you find the water, then you have created something new, and that is exciting! If you re-dig the same well, on the one hand it is easier because the hole is already there, but on the other hand, it lacks the excitement that comes along with something new. It’s easier to learn several new perakim of Tanach or a few new dapim of Gemara than to review one that we have already learned. We did that already! We are looking for something new and different.
However, what makes Avraham into Avraham is the fact that Yitzchak followed in his path. As Hashem says in Parashat Vayera, Avraham is going to teach his children the path of justice, the path of Hashem. If he had not been successful in passing on his way of life to his children, he would not have been able to become Avraham Avinu, the father of the nation.
This is what Hazal were talking about when they said that every day, the Torah and the mitzvot should seem new to us. New, exciting, something to look forward to – even though it is the same Torah that we have had for generations. How do we accomplish this? Rav Steinsaltz suggests that we should ask many questions as we learn Torah and as we live our Jewish life – and through these questions, we can be “mechadesh” new ideas or new perspectives and thereby feel excited about what we are doing. It’s true that we daven the same tefilot every day, but if we take a few extra minutes to really look carefully at a bracha we are saying, we will come up with a new perspective on it that energizes us with new meaning and kavana. Be-ezrat Hashem, we will both find meaning in the continuation of something great that began all the way back with Avraham, taking inspiration from Yitzchak who was able to be that faithful follower, and at the same time find new meaning in the learning and mitzvot that define our lives.