Isaac and Rebecca are only with us for one, not-too-long Torah portion. We already met them last week: him in his walking, silent meditation; her, working hard at the well to water the servant’s camels, chatting happily, making bold decisions. They have such different energies, and yet they fall in love, or better yet, she falls off the camel; He brings her into his mother’s tent and finds comfort. It is the first time in the Torah that the word “love” appears in conjunction with a man and a woman. Until now, couples “knew” each other; they walked with each other; they argued with each other; they dealt with their offsprings, family, animals and immediate environment with each other; but there was no love between them, not until Isaac and Rebecca.
The psychologists of the Bible will tell us that Isaac suffers from PTSD after the binding, and even the midrash tell us he was blinded then by his father’s knife, shining and glimmering in the sunlight, and something very deep snapped in him forever. He’s a “wimp”, a mama boy, a yes-man to his wife, a gullible old man; the weak link between Abraham and Jacob, a space holder. Next…
But then, right in the middle of their story, we meet a very different Isaac which sheds a very different light on everything else.
“And Isaac sowed in the land and in that year, and he reached one hundred markets (gates), and G-d blessed him” (Genesis 26:12) G-d, by the way, only speaks to Isaac once, but the meditating Isaac walks with G-d all the time. G-d blesses him, and he feels that blessing. Maybe Isaac does things right and G-d doesn’t need to chat with him; besides, he has Rebecca. So then comes the next verse: “and this mentch grew, and he kept on growing more, until he was exceedingly great” (26:13). Rav Hirsch says grew here means he became prosperous. One way or another, the word “grew, big” etc, repeats within 9 words – 3 times. Further, the Torah opts to call him an “ish”, not only a man, but a real mentch. And it goes on to tell us he acquired great possessions, and that the Philistines were jealous of him. Chances are the Philistines wouldn’t envy a weak old wimp. But they envied Isaac.
Let’s go back again: After the binding, Isaac went back to Hebron, where Sarah died and where her tent – where he later brought Rebecca to be his wife – was. Abraham, however, went to Be’er Sheva and remarried, had more kids and went on with his life. Some say, that Isaac, after the binding and his mother’s death, wanted nothing to do with his father, therefore, we don’t hear them talk again. In fact, though Abraham grew wealthier, since Isaac wanted nothing with him, Isaac didn’t really get of that wealth until Abraham died. That is also why Jacob cooks the lentil porridge, a poor people’s food, and why they are so dependent on Esau’s hunting for their food. According to this view, Isaac was not at all rich, but he still felt blessed and the Philistines still envied him, maybe they envied him exactly because of that feeling. Later, earning his neighbors’ respect, they will call him, bruch hashem, the one blessed by G-d.
It’s not easy being Abraham’s son, and Isaac has to create that careful balance between doing his own thing and being his father’s successor. According to our tradition, Abraham smashed his father’s idols. If Isaac did the same, and smashed his father’s god, we wouldn’t be here today. But he could also not be his father. He had to be himself. This comes across in the story of him digging and re-digging his father’s wells – and some would say, learning his father’s Torah, because Torah is likened to water. And he calls the wells names – the names that his father called them.
The shepherds in the region fight with him over the water and the wells, as Hirsch says: (it’s as if they say): “yes, you dug the well; the hole is yours but the water is ours”. This goes on until Isaac digs his own well. Then, there is no fighting. Isaac goes to Be’er Sheva (yes, where Abraham lived), and that is the one and only time that G-d officially appears to him, and gives him His blessing.
There is one more interesting encounter between Isaac and G-d, when G-d grants him his wish, to have children. The midrash portrays the picture of Isaac and Rebecca, each in another side of the room praying for each other. Unlike his sons and father, the idea of taking another wife doesn’t even enter the discussion here. Whatever it is, they will do together. Some say, that there were moments when Rebecca already gave up. She said, I don’t want to be the mom of the Esau; let someone else birth him. I’ll just be Jacob’s mom, but Isaac, perhaps because he lived through that with his mom, dad, Hagar and Yishma’el, was not going to let that happen again. And yes, maybe they pay for that elsewhere, but then, that is who they are.
The Kabalistic sfirot identified him with gvura, bravery: quiet, solid, reliable kind of Jewish bravery, no flare, no looking for rewards. Even his name is in the future tense. Twenty years of waiting, but he has time.