Two Torah readings: Parshas Noach and, the Torah reading of this week, Parshas Toldos, begin with the words: Eleh toldos, “Theseare the chronicles of....” Nevertheless, Parshas Noach is given that name because the lessons it teaches center on the concepts of satisfaction and repose associated with the chronicles of Noah as a person. By contrast, Parshas Toldos, which focuses on the chronicles of Isaac’s life, communicates the importance of creating a legacy.

Our Rabbis offer two definitions of the word Toldos:

a) Progeny, which includes a person’s biological children and his “spiritual children,” i.e., individuals whom he has taught, as our Sages comment, “Anyone who teaches a person is considered as if he fathered him.” Both types of children perpetuate a person’s influence.

b) The chronicles of one’s life and experiences. When a person’s life is filled with inner meaning, stories about his life provide inspiration for people in coming generations.

With whom does the Torah choose to associate the message of Toldos? Isaac. Two things reflect the nature of Isaac’s Divine service: a) unlike his father Abraham, he never left Eretz Yisrael, and b) his efforts were focused on digging wells.

Abraham spread G‑dliness in the lands in which he sojourned. He “proclaimed... to the entire world... that there is one G‑d and it is befitting to serve Him. He would travel from city to city and from country to country, gathering people and proclaiming [G‑d’s existence].”

Isaac, by contrast, never traveled outside the Holy Land, and even within Eretz Yisrael, we do not find many stories of his efforts to reach out to others. His Divine service had an inward focus.

This is reflected in his preoccupation with digging wells. Digging a well involves removing layers of earth to uncover hidden sources of life-giving water. Spiritually, “digging” refers to the work of reaching one’s G‑dly core and tapping it as a source of inner strength. Each of us has a soulwhich is “an actual part of G‑d” and every entity is maintained by a G‑dly spark. Isaac’s goal was to activate these inner potentials, bring them to the surface and, use them to initiate positive change.

In this manner, the awareness of G‑d becomes an integral part of one’s life. It does not remain dependent on the teachings of others, but comes from one’s own insight. This in turn enables one to realize the G‑dliness present in every element of existence.

In this context, our Sages interpret the verse, “Dwell in this land,” as “Cause the Divine Presence to rest in this land” — help the world manifest its G‑dly core.

Isaac’s Divine service brought the people around him to a recognition of G‑d’s active presence in the world. Indeed, the awareness inspired by Isaac was more permanent than that generated by Abraham, for it came from the people themselves. Isaac’s internalized bond with G‑d inspired the people around him to perceive G‑d’s influence. In this way, he produced progeny, people who were aware of spirituality and sought to incorporate it into their lives.

Looking to the Horizon

Much of this week’s Torah reading deals with the interaction between Isaac and his two sons: Esau and Jacob, the progenitors of Rome and Jerusalem respectively. Isaac wanted to prepare his sons to bring the world to its ultimate fulfillment, the era of Mashiach. He knew that it would not be easy for Esau — “the man of the field” — to reach that level. To assist him and enable him to infuse the material world with which he was involved with spiritual energy, Isaac sought to bless him.

With the unique wisdom women have, Rebecca understood that Esau was not going to be able to carry out this mission. She appreciated that although Jacob was “an artless man, dwelling in tents,” “the tents of the Torah,” the objective of refining the world and preparing it for its ultimate Messianic purpose was to be his. To achieve that goal, he would need blessings. Now, to get those blessings — and to accomplish his goal — he would have to depart from his own natural tendencies and both literally and figuratively “put on the garments of Esau.” But internally and in his manner of conduct, he would remain Jacob, a man of soul.

Jacob and Esau are not merely figures of the past, but elements of existing within the personalities of each one of us. By living as Jacobs in an environment of Esaus, we prepare the world for the coming of Mashiach, when its spiritual core will permeate its material surface.