The portion of Toldot begins, "And these are the children of Isaac son of Abraham; Abraham fathered Isaac."1 The question is raised: if scripture already says, "Isaac son of Abraham," why the need to repeat, "Abraham fathered Isaac"? The Torah is supremely precise in its wording, yet this seems redundant.

There are many answers to this question, brought by the Talmud, Midrash, Chassidut and the Zohar. Each explains their unique approach to this question.

The Talmud: Silencing the Mockers

The Talmud2 explains that the “mockers of the generation” didn't believe that Abraham fathered Isaac, because he had already been with Sarah for so many years without being able to bear children. And since she had been recently abducted by Abimelech, the king of the Philistines, they were saying that Abimelech was the father.

What did G‑d do? He made Isaac look exactly like Abraham, to the point that everyone said, "Abraham fathered Isaac, Abraham fathered Isaac." Hence the extra words.

The Midrash: Mutual Pride

The Midrash3 says that “Isaac crowned himself with Abraham and Abraham crowned himself with Isaac.” Isaac took pride in the fact that Abraham was his father and Abraham took pride in the fact that Isaac was his son. This is the meaning of "Isaac son of Abraham, Abraham fathered Isaac."

The Chassidic Masters: Love and Awe

The Chassidic4 explanation is that Abraham's attribute was chessed, loving-kindness. He symbolizes love of G‑d Isaac had the attribute of gevurah, strength, symbolizing his fear of G‑d.

When it comes to love and fear of G‑d, there are two levels of each.

First, there is the lower fear, “yira tataa”. In this way of thinking, one is afraid to go against G‑d's will, because he doesn't want to be punished. He serves G‑d because he is afraid that if he doesn't, G‑d won't fulfill his needs or wants. Or perhaps on a loftier ideal, he is afraid that his spiritual connection with G‑d will be severed.

Then there is the higher fear, “yira ilaa”. He is so in awe of G‑d that he wouldn't do anything against His will.

Then there is minor love, “ahavah zuta”. This love is all in the hope that he’ll gain out of his love for G‑d, to be in good favor with Him. Or perhaps a loftier ideal, he wants to have a connection with G‑d.

Then there is the greater love (“ahava rabbah”. He loves G‑d "without the intention to receive a reward."5

In the lower level of fear and love, it is more self-centered. In the higher fear and love, it is only about G‑d.

Since "the actions of our forefathers are a sign for their children,"6 the Torah mentions two Abrahams, symbolizing the two levels of love, and two Isaacs, symbolizing the two levels of fear. The order of our service to G‑d is first the more basic level of love or fear and then the higher levels. As our sages7 say, "A person should learn Torah not for its own sake [i.e. for selfish reasons], because through learning it not for its own sake, he will come to learn it for its own sake [i.e. because it is G‑d’s will]." The same is when it comes to love and fear of G‑d. First comes the lower levels, and only after that comes the higher levels. And the order follows the names in the verse, "Isaac, son of Abraham, Abraham fathered Isaac." First lower fear, then minor love, followed by great love, and finally higher fear.8

The lesson here for every one of us is that we should serve G‑d through both love and fear,9 the ways of Abraham and Isaac.10

However, the nature of people is to steer towards one characteristic.

Similarly, people tend to be either an introvert or an extrovert, but not both. For someone who is an introvert, to act like an extrovert is hard work, and vice versa. And that is what G‑d wants from us, to put in the work. It is easy to follow our natures. It’s no big deal for a loving person to be loving; it takes effort for them to also have fear of G‑d. Conversely for someone who is naturally disciplined and serious, fear of G‑d is easy; for him being loving takes effort. And our job is to make the effort to serve G‑d through both love and fear.

The Zohar: Body and Soul

Then there is the Zohar's11 explanation. Abraham represents the soul. Isaac represents the pleasure that the soul will receive in the world to come, at the time of Moshiach.

The Zohar explains that "Isaac son of Abraham" is the reward of the soul in the world to come. And how does it earn that reward, that pleasure? Through its work in this world, serving G‑d, working within the body, doing Torah and mitzvahs. In other words, the soul creates its reward, or "Abraham fathered Isaac."

The Composite

Whenever there are different explanations on the same words in the Torah, they must be connected in some way.12 How are these four explanations connected?

Every story13 in the Torah and every Torah teaching is a lesson for us in our daily lives. The Chassidic explanation teaches us to serve G‑d through both love and fear. The Zohar's explanation teaches that through our effort in this world, we generate the reward in the world to come. But what can be the lesson from the Talmud's explanation, that Isaac looked like Abraham? And what can be the lesson from the explanation of the Midrash, that Isaac crowned himself with Abraham and Abraham crowned himself with Isaac?

Both the Talmud and the Midrash are telling us concepts that are beyond nature.

The Talmud tells us that G‑d made it clear that Isaac was Abraham's son, by making them look exactly alike. Abraham couldn't have children naturally,14 and spiritually it was not in his cards either. The astrologers of the time told, and Abraham Abraham himself saw in the stars,15 that he would not have children.

That's why at the the Covenant between the parts the verse says, "And He took him outside."16 It was clear that the event was outdoors. If so, what does it mean that G‑d took Abraham outside? Our sages17 say that G‑d said, "go out of your astrology." He took Abraham out of the natural order of the world, and now he would be able to have children, regardless of nature and despite his astrological forecast.

The explanation of the Midrash says that "Isaac crowned himself with Abraham and Abraham crowned himself with Isaac." It uses the word "crowned". A crown is something that is worn on one's head, above them and adding to the person wearing it. In other words, Abraham felt that Isaac in a way was above him, and added to who he was.

The natural order is that as the generations progress, the later generation is lower spiritually than the one that preceded it. As our sages18 say, "If the first ones were the children of angels, then we are the children of people..." So it would make sense that Isaac would be lower than Abraham spiritually. If that is the case, why would Abraham crown himself with Isaac? The Midrash is saying that the Jewish people are not subject to nature, not even the nature of spirituality. That is why Abraham crowned himself with Isaac, because Isaac was greater in a way.

So the lesson to us from the Talmud and Midrash is that we are higher than the world. No one can control your destiny unless you allow them to.

The mockers of the generation come with blistering words, and say, "Maybe you can transcend in the spiritual realms, but in the physical realm, you must abide by the rules. You must go through the Abimelech, the king, the one who is in charge of the physical." In other words, "you are bound by nature."

What did G‑d do? He made Isaac look exactly like Abraham, proving that Abraham could have children and that a Jew lives with miracles.

Now we will understand how the explanations of the Talmud, Midrash, Chassidut and Zohar are all interconnected.

The Talmud is the most revealed part of the Torah. It tells us that we are not bound to the physical nature of the world. Even Abraham, who according to nature, shouldn't be able to have children, had a son, Isaac, who looked exactly like him, thus proving that we can be above nature.

The Midrash, which is the bridge between the revealed and esoteric parts of Torah, tells us that we are higher than the spiritual system that G‑d set in this world. Even though Isaac was born later, Abraham crowned himself with Isaac, bypassing Ishmael. This is true for every Jewish person, as King Solomon said, "The crown of the elders is their grandchildren."19 We do not have to conform to the spiritual system of the world.

Chassidut, which comes to teach you how to serve G‑d, tells us how we can achieve this level and transcend the natural order of the world. It tells us to simultaneously have love and fear, attributes which are diametric opposites. Man is unable to attain this combination. G‑d alone is able to have both love and fear at the same time. When we put in the effort to serve G‑d with both love and fear, then G‑d bestows upon us the ability to do so, transcending the physical and spiritual nature of the world.

The Zohar, which is the esoteric part of the Torah, tells us how this will play out when Moshiach comes. Therefore, it tells us the reward for our physical service to G‑d. If we transform the world into a home for G‑d, by serving G‑d in a transcendent way, in accordance with the first three explanations, we will surely merit the reward, the Divine pleasure that our souls will enjoy in the world to come, meaning, the time of Moshiach. May he come soon.20