While it might be nice to try and psychoanalyze Isaac, in the end, it's a somewhat futile effort to try and redeem Isaac's character. I don't think Isaac needs any redemption from us. He fulfilled an important role, albeit a simple one, of insuring the continuity of G"d's covenant with Avraham. He re-dug the wells of his father which AviMelekh's people had closed. He gave them back their names. what Avraham had named Beer-sheva, the seven wells, Isaac renames Shivah, seven thus re-affirming his father's original naming.
If we are to believe that it is not some scribal error or later redaction to tie together stories from different families, then Isaac, like his father before him lies to protect his wife' s honor and his own life. And iffy tradition to have carried on, but a tradition nonetheless.
In all the excitement of the stories to come of Yaakov, Yosef and Moshe rabbeinu, it's easy to forget that none of it would have happened had not Yitzchak played his part as keeper of the tradition. We owe him a lot for that.
Just as we owe other keepers of the tradition. The early reformers of Judaism, in particular, were eager to dispense with 18 centuries of rabbinical tradition, halakha, and bubbe meises.And even today, some liberal Jews fiercely work to disassociate themselves from anything that even hints at that tradition.
However, just like Isaac did, the rabbis did what they felt they had to do to maintain the tradition-to keep the chain connected-despite all the obstacles, persecutions and other dangers that surrounded them and the Jewish people for all those centuries. Can we so easily ignore all that they have done? Should we?
They say there's a swing back toward tradition in the liberal Jewish world. Like Isaac, we are re-opening the wells of our fathers, and learning that this is necessary to maintain the covenant. Like Isaac, we are beginning to use the "old names" of things.
If we separate ourselves completely from our chain of tradition, then we, the Yaakov and Esavs of today, might not give rise to the Yosefs and Moshes of our future. If we completely devalue the contribution of 2000 years of tradition, then we have not learned the lesson that the Torah teaches us about Isaac. As John Milton so aptly put it:
When I consider how my light is spent Ere half my days in this dark world and wide, And that one talent which is death to hide, Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent To serve therewith my Maker, and present My true account, lest He returning chide, 'Doth God exact day labor, light denied?' I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent That murmur soon replies, 'God doth not need Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed, And post o'er land and ocean without rest; They also serve who only stand and wait.'
While we can no longer afford to be the generation that stands and waits, we must not lose our respect for the generations that did. We do so only at our own peril. Let us thank them, even when we disagree with them, for keeping the flame alive so that we might inherit it.
©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester
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