Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Toldot

Isaac’s Wells

One activity of Isaac’s on which the Torah elaborates at some length is his well-digging. We are told how he reopened the wells originally dug by Abraham, and how he dug a series of wells of his own.

Isaac is portrayed as a farmer and a well-digger. Isaac had learned the profound secret of the seed: growth and profit come only when you allow yourself to disintegrate and become one with the soil from which you have come. Isaac was a digger of wells, boring through the strata of emotion and experience in search of the quintessential waters of the soul. Boring deeper than feeling, deeper than desire, deeper than achievement, to the selflessness at the core of self.

Abraham’s love of G‑d and humanity took him on a journey from the self outward—a journey etched in the roads of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Canaan. Isaac never left the boundaries of his homeland. For his was an inward journey, a journey into the depths of self, to the essence within.
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To Give and Give Again

In the Torah portion of Toldot we read of the blessings that Yitzchak bestowed upon his son Yaakov, beginning with the words: “And may G‑d give you….” Comments the Midrash: “May He give you, and May He give you again.”

G‑d is limitless, surely, His original gift, emanating as it does from his infinite kindness, is without limit. What possible need could there be for G‑d to give and then give again?

The transmission of knowledge from teacher to student can be achieved in one of two ways: a) the student may understand his master’s teachings, but not thoroughly enough to be able to innovate on his own; b) the disciple may completely master his teacher’s discourse, so that he is able to amplify on these teachings and come up with novel thoughts of his own.

Herein lies the meaning of “May He give you, and May He give you again”: G‑d’s blessings are so splendid that not only is the person blessed with unlimited bounty from Above, but he is inspired to make use of these blessings on his own, thereby gaining yet again.

In terms of man’s spiritual service, these two types of students correspond to the righteous individual and the penitent.

The righteous individual follows the path of Torah and mitzvos as they were transmitted from Above, while the penitent, having deviated from the path, transforms iniquity into merit. His method of service uses his power of repentance — the arousal of which is also granted to him by G‑d — to perform an additional measure of service, a service not readily available to the righteous.
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Yitzchak’s Progeny

Toldot, meaning offspring, relates to the bearing of children. In a spiritual sense, the theme of the portion is spiritual parenthood, drawing Jews closer to Judaism, in line with the saying: “Whoever teaches his friend’s son Torah is considered as if he had borne him.”

We must however, understand how this bearing of spiritual children — toldot — relates to Yitzchak, since his manner of service (unlike that of his father Avraham) did not entail leaving his quarters to involve himself with others.

While Yitzchak’s manner of service did not involve traveling from place to place and making G‑d’s Name known, his inward manner of spiritual service was so powerful that it attracted people to him.

This is explained at length in this portion: When there was a hunger in the land, Yitzchak thought he should descend to Egypt as his father had — knowing that, with this descent, he could continue his father’s outreach work.

G‑d, however, told him that he should remain in the land. For Yitzchak’s manner of service would differ from his father’s; living a holy life while he remained in the land, G‑d’s Name would become known — as a matter of course — to others as well.

The reason for the Torah portion’s name is now clear: Toldos emphasizes that the children are similar to their father. Yitzchak remained on his lofty level and drew others to him.
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Two Manners of Service

At the beginning of the Torah portion Toldot, the Torah relates that when Rivkah was pregnant with Ya’akov and Esav, “the children clashed within her.” Our Sages explain that, while still within the womb, Ya’akov was drawn to holiness, while Esav was attracted to idolatry.

Esav’s behavior is difficult to fathom. The Patriarchs were, “completely holy”. Their children were conceived and born in complete holiness. How could it be that Yitzchak’s son, Esav, should innately be drawn to idolatry?

The Rambam explains that there are two general manners of spiritual service: the individual who desires to do only good, and the one who desires to do evil, but conquers his evil inclination.

Although the Patriarchs experienced no internal conflict, they were still faced with external opposition to their way of life, opposition that they had to overcome. And, although conquest of one’s own evil inclination may be much more difficult than overcoming outside opposition, nevertheless, the Patriarchs’ service in this regard also served as an empowerment to their children, for the following reason: by conquering one’s evil inclination, a person shows how greatly attached he is to G‑d; although he desires to do evil, this desire does not hinder his will to do only good.

This is expressed even more forcefully through repentance. Though the person has actually succumbed to evil, his innermost desire to remain attached to G‑d is so strong that he conquers his evil, regrets his past and returns to His service.

These two manners of service — “wholly righteous” and “overcoming evil” — were also mirrored in their children — Ya’akov was completely righteous, and Esav had the task of conquering an innate tendency towards evil.
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Good Times, Bad Times

The lives and challenges of our forefather Isaac and his grandson Joseph were very different. Isaac lived out his entire life in the Land of Israel amidst physical prosperity. Joseph spent most of his life in Egypt where he was sold into slavery and ultimately became a powerful ruler: