Parshas Toldos begins by reintroducing us to Yitzchak. However, the introduction seems a little repetitive. “וְאֵ֛לֶּה תּֽוֹלְדֹ֥ת יִצְחָ֖ק בֶּן־אַבְרָהָ֑ם אַבְרָהָ֖ם הוֹלִ֥יד אֶת־יִצְחָֽק” “And these are the generations of Yitzchak the son of Avraham; Avraham gave birth to Yitzchak” (Bereishis 25:19). The commentaries all ask why the pasuk has to repeat itself; after saying that Yitzchak is the son of Avraham, why does the pasuk turn around and say that Avraham gave birth to Yitzchak? Isn’t that the same thing?
There are several answers given, ranging from simple to more complicated. I would like to focus on the answer of the Kli Yakar.
At the end of last week’s parsha, the pasuk told us “וְאֵ֛לֶּה תֹּֽלְדֹ֥ת יִשְׁמָעֵ֖אל בֶּן־אַבְרָהָ֑ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר יָֽלְדָ֜ה הָגָ֧ר הַמִּצְרִ֛ית” “These are the generations of Yishmael the son of Avraham; who was born to Hagar the Egyptian” (25:12). There is a distinct difference between the way the pasuk describes Yitzchak and Yishmael’s lineage; by Yitzchak, the pasuk calls him the son of Avraham and that Avraham gave birth to him. By Yishmael, he is called the son of Avraham, but the pasuk says he was born to Hagar.
In Hebrew language, there is a big difference between being called someone’s son and someone’s descendent. There are times when a person can be called someone’s son without being a true descendent of theirs. For example, students of a specific teacher are called his children if they accept him as their rebbi, their spiritual guide. A community can be called the children of their leader if they truly accept his authority over them.
On the other hand, no matter what, there are certain natural tendencies, including behavioral, spiritual, physical, and mental, that all children inherit from their parents. They are a person’s natural tendencies that make up their character before they make any changes.
This is the difference between a parent and a teacher. The tendencies you inherit from your parents make up your natural state of mind, and are extremely difficult to change out of. However, that which you learn from your teacher does not come naturally, and is gained with difficulty but lost easily.
This, explains the Kli Yakar, is the true difference between Yitzchak and Yishmael. Yishmael is known as Avraham’s son because he did pick up some good traits by living in Avraham’s house. However, his natural tendencies leaned towards his mother, Hagar; as we see in the pasuk, as soon as he left Avraham’s house, he became a bandit (See 21:20). Therefore, the pasuk tells us that he was truly descended from Hagar.
By Yitzchak, Avraham was both his father and his rebbi. While he too learned many things from living in his father’s house, even more so, he naturally imbibed his father’s (and mother’s) sterling traits, proving him to be the true heir to Avraham. Therefore, the pasuk tells us that he was both Avraham’s son and that he was descended from him.
From this parsha, we see how important it is to make the most of the opportunities provided to us. Yishmael had a 50/50 chance of ending up like Avraham or like Hagar; but instead of going towards his Avraham tendencies, he went in the opposite direction. When we are placed in a situation where we can go one way or another, or where we have the opportunity to connect to someone who can lead us in the right direction, let’s make sure we don’t act like Yishmael, and take the proper path.
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