The driver who took me to the airport yesterday was a failure; or so he believed. A Coptic Christian, he'd spent over 10 years living as a monk. Living in"Instead of a life of piety, I drive a limousine the Egyptian desert, meditating, praying and fasting, he'd done everything he could to attain spiritual enlightenment.

But he'd given it all up.

"I'm too weak," he confessed to me. "I kept dreaming of women and other pleasures of the flesh. I left the order, and a few years ago I immigrated here. I'm married now and we're expecting a child. Instead of a life of piety, I drive a limousine in New York City. I wasn't worthy."

I couldn't help contrasting his standards of religious perfection with the Jewish ideal. We don't believe in asceticism and don't hold up celibacy as an ambition. The ideal is to marry and bring children to this world. Rather than withdrawing from society, we are expected to do work that contributes to the common good.

The Parshah we read this week begins: “This is the story of Isaac the son of Abraham ... Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebecca.”We then proceed to relate the story of the birth of Jacob and Esau, Isaac's interactions with the local king and his digging of wells throughout the region.

On the face of it, by starting the story of Isaac’s life here, we're selling him short. After all, he had a fascinating backstory. Although we have read about the Akeida—how Abraham took Isaac on G‑d's instructions and bound him as a potential sacrifice to G‑d—we weren't given any of the details from Isaac's perspective. Surely that would be a story worth telling?

We also read in the Midrash that immediately following the Akeida, Isaac spent three years in the Garden of Eden, studying Torah, communing with the angels and imbibing G‑dliness. I wouldWe are expected to work and contribute to the common good have liked to learn how those years of spiritual solitude affected his psyche and colored his future endeavors, but the Torah skips blithely past these fundamentals and starts the story only once he'd finally settled down to marriage, at the relatively advanced age of 40.

By starting Isaac’s story at this point, the Bible is pointing out that the true religious ideal is not a life of loneliness and self-sacrifice, but one of engaging in the world and making a difference in the lives of others. Spending time in paradise might be personally rewarding, but Isaac’s real story began when he settled down and started making his mark on the world.