And Isaac dug again the wells of water, which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them. -Genesis 26:18
We Jews have many names. We are often referred to as B’nai Abraham, “the children of Abraham”, in part because of the patriarch Abraham’s courageous venture into the unknown, ultimately arriving at what we now know as Israel. Other times we are called B’nai Yisrael, “the children of Israel”, after the patriarch Israel, formerly known as Jacob, and his bold wrestling match with an angel, with God, with anyone and everyone along his journey. However we are never referred to as the B’nai Yitzchak, “the children of Isaac”, the patriarch who, frankly, seems to get glossed over by our tradition and relegated to the shadows of Jewish history.
And yet, as we read above there is something quite touching about Isaac and the quiet and simple way he moves about his life. No, he is no visionary like dad, or go-getter like son. However, what Isaac is, is thoughtful, nostalgic and dutiful. We watch him lovingly mourn his mother in last week’s parsha and in this week’s parsha retracing his father’s footsteps and re-digging his fathers closed up wells; trying to continue his father’s work; trying to keep his father’s memory alive. Isaac looks backwards into the past, while also looking forward enough to provide a life for his family, for his son, Jacob.
No, Isaac has no monumental, larger than life, big, bold adventures like his father or his son. No, he will not have his name branded upon the Jewish people for millennia to come. However, history needs the visionaries, the adventurers, the men and women who step to the foreground but, equally, we need those who are caretakers, who connect the generations, those who play a background part as well. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:
The authentic individual is neither an end nor a beginning, but a link between ages, both memory and expectation. Every moment is a new beginning within a continuum of history. It is facetious to segregate a moment and not to sense its involvement in both past and future. Humbly the past defers to the future but it refuses to be discarded. Only he who is an heir is qualified to be a pioneer.
Isaac may be quiet, gentle and subtle in the way he lives and leads but make no mistake about it, he is deservedly one of the three Avot, the patriarchs. Regardless of not having a namesake, nonetheless Isaac fulfills his role and is an heir, a pioneer, an authentic individual and true father of the Jewish. We need both types of leaders in life – trailblazers and caretakers – and each of us as individuals need to cultivate both qualities in ourselves as well.
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