1. The parshah begins: “And these are the toldos of Yitzchok.” In his commentary, Rashi explains: “Toldos — [This refers to] Yaakov and Eisav who are mentioned [later on] in the parshah.”

To explain: There are two possible meanings for the word Toldos: a) offspring, and b) chronicles, i.e., what a person wrought in his lifetime. Even though the births of Yaakov and Eisav are not mentioned until a number of verses later, Rashi chooses to explain the word Toldos in the context of “offspring” and thus, referring to them.

On the surface, however, the alternative interpretation appears more appropriate.1 The parshah relates some of the major events of Yitzchak’s life and then recounts his siring of Yaakov and Eisav.

The difficulty in Rashi’s interpretation is reinforced by a further point. The portion begins “And these are” (ואלה). Our Sages explain:

Whenever the Torah uses the expression, “And these are...,” it serves as a continuation of the previous narrative. Whenever it uses the expression, “These are...” it negates [all connection with] the previous narrative.

According to the interpretation of toldos as “chronicles,” the connection between the “chronicles” of Yitzchok and the subject matter of the previous portion is clear. The previous portion describes the period of Yitzchak’s life when he lived together with his father, Avraham, and the present portion continues, describing those events which happened to Yitzchok after he set up his own home.

In contrast, according to the interpretation of toldos as “offspring,” the connection between our portion and the previous parshah is problematic. The previous parshah concludes with the description of Yishmael’s progeny. How are Yitzchak’s children including Yaakov, the righteous, a continuation of the narrative that deals with Yishmael’s offspring who were all wicked?

The Midrash explains that, in fact, there is a connection between the two narratives: Just as Yishmael’s descendants were wicked, Yitzchak’s descendants — Eisav’s offspring — were wicked. To emphasize that there is no reference to Yaakov, the word toldos is written in a short form, lacking a vav. Rashi, however, does not share the Midrash’s perspective for it is impossible — according to the simple interpretation of the Torah — to say that Yitzchak’s offspring refers primarily to Eisav. Indeed, Rashi states the direct opposite — “Yaakov and Eisav who are mentioned...” Therefore, the question remains: Why did he choose to interpret toldos as “offspring” rather than “chronicles?”

The above difficulties can be resolved as follows: Since “And these are” refers to a continuation of the previous subject matter and the previous parshah concludes with a description of Yishmael’s descendants, it follows that the toldos mentioned here would refer to children. Though Yitzchak’s descendants (in particular, Yaakov) were different in nature than Yishmael’s, they do share a common element. They are both the descendants of Avraham — “These are the toldos of Yitzchok the son of Avraham....” Thus, the narrative describing Yitzchak’s offspring is a “continuation” of the description of Yishmael’s descendants.

In particular, the two narratives represent the fulfillment of the prophecies which Avraham was given. G‑d told Avraham that he would be “a father of many nations....” (Bereishis 17:5-6) (This prophecy does not concern Yishmael for he had already been born) and that Sarah would give birth to a son and that she will be “a mother of nations.” (17:16, 19) Afterwards, Avraham prayed, “May Yishmael live before You.” (17:18) G‑d then assured Avraham that Yishmael would also become a great nation (17:20), but Sarah’s child would be the one who would perpetuate his tradition. (21:12)

Thus, after the Torah recounts how G‑d’s promise to Yishmael was fulfilled, describing his many descendants, it mentions the toldos offspring of Yitzchok — Yaakov and Eisav — through whom the promise that Avraham would become “a father of nations” — Israel and Edom — was fulfilled.

Rashi’s commentary contains “the wine of the Torah,” i.e., it alludes to mystic insights. In Or HaTorah, the Tzemach Tzedek states that the words “And these are,” representing a continuation of the previous narrative, allude to the ability of holiness to refine and elevate the realm of kelipah, adding them to kedushah. Thus, it also implies that Yaakov can elevate Eisav and lift up the sparks of holiness contained within his soul.2 Similarly, there is also the refinement of Yishmael.

Based on the above, we can draw a connection between the two interpretations of the word toldos mentioned above. The most important chronicles of Yitzchak’s life began with the birth of his children. Though previously Yitzchok underwent the challenge of the Akeidah and spent three years in Gan Eden, the essential aspect of his service began with the birth of his children.

The purpose of our lives in this world is not to sacrifice ourselves to G‑d or to rise up to Gan Eden, but rather, to elevate the world, to make it a fit to serve as a dwelling for G‑d. This is connected with the command: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill up the world and conquer it.” This was accomplished through Yitzchak’s giving birth to Yaakov and Eisav.3 In particular, it was realized through Yaakov’s efforts to elevate Eisav and also through the mission with which he was charged at the end of the portion, and in parshas Vayeitzei refining Lavan and Charan. This represents the ultimate purpose of a Jew’s existence — the refinement of the world, preparing it for the era when “sovereignty will be the L‑rd’s,” with the coming of Mashiach.

An added point: Yitzchok was 40 years old when he married Rivkah and 60 years old when he gave birth to Yaakov and Eisav. The age of forty is significant as our sages stated,” At forty, one attains understanding,” and “After forty years, a person reaches an understanding of his teacher’s knowledge.” Similarly, the Torah associates the age of forty with “a knowing heart, eyes that see, and ears that hear.”

The Tzemach Tzedek also associates the age of sixty with the quality of understanding. The interrelation of forty and sixty can also be seen in our Sages’ statement that the final Mem (numerically equal to forty) and the Samech (numerically equal to sixty) in the Ten Commandments stood in the tablets through a miracle. Thus, forty and sixty refer to a miraculous leap forward in service. In Yitzchak’s case, this was reflected in his marriage (at forty) and his siring of children (at sixty) which reflected a leap forward in his service of refining the world, adding happiness and joy (the meaning of the word Yitzchok) to the world and preparing the world for the ultimate miracle, the coming of Mashiach.

2. The refinement of the world — as reflected in Yaakov’s refinement of Eisav — is of primary importance in the present age. Ours is the last generation of exile and the first generation of redemption. Therefore, we have a unique responsibility to spread good, righteousness, and justice throughout the world at large, teaching the gentile nations to observe the seven universal laws commanded to Noach and his descendants. This will serve as a preparation for the era when “I will make the nations pure of speech and they will all call on the name of the L‑rd” and “The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d... as it is written, ‘For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover up the ocean bed.’ ”

This concept is related to the service of the Nasi of our generation, the Previous Rebbe, whose second name was also Yitzchok. He spread Yiddishkeit and Chassidus throughout the entire world — even in America, the lower half of the world. Also, he initiated the efforts to translate Chassidic thought into the seventy languages of the world.

[It appears that the latter efforts were motivated by a twofold intent. Primarily, the goal was to reach Jews who could not understand the texts in the Hebrew original. In addition, this translation made it possible for the gentiles to learn about the oneness of G‑d, Divine Providence, and subjects of that like.]

There is a special emphasis on the above this year, the fortieth anniversary of the Previous Rebbe’s passing since as explained above forty is connected with attaining “understanding of one’s teacher’s knowledge.” Thus, this year grants us the potential for a miraculous leap forward in this direction.

These efforts can be related to the International Conference of Shluchim which was held during the previous week. The Shluchim came from countries all over the world as emissaries of the Jews (and in an extended sense, even of the gentiles) of those countries. In truth, they are emissaries of G‑d, making the world a dwelling place for Him through influencing Jews to perform their 613 mitzvos and gentiles to perform the seven mitzvos with which they are charged.4

In that sense, every Jew — and gentile for that matter — is a shliach of G‑d. By many, however, this shlichus is not consciously felt. Thus, the task of those who were appointed to serve as shluchim is to motivate all the Jews (and gentiles) throughout the entire world to fulfill the shlichus with which they were charged by G‑d.

In this context, the International Conference of Shluchim involved a gathering together of the representatives of the entire world for a single intent to increase and intensify the service of transforming the world into a dwelling for G‑d. To reinforce the influence of this conference, it is worthy to organize regional conferences for the shluchim throughout the world. Each of these conferences should publish a record of the gathering, including words of Torah spoken there, as suggested previously in regard to the International Conference of Shluchim.

In this context, we can see the connection to Parshas Toldos which centers on the “chronicles” of Yitzchak’s “offspring,” Yaakov and Eisav. Through the activities of the Jews (Yaakov) in refining the world at large (Eisav) — this being the intent of the International Conference of Shluchim — happiness and joy, the contribution of Yitzchok, will be revealed throughout the world.

3. The effects of our service in refining the world and preparing it for the Messianic redemption is openly visible throughout the world.

There are those who protest against the suggestion that we are nearing the close of the exile and approaching the coming of Mashiach. They maintain that the world is proceeding according to the natural order without disruption.

Such a perspective represents a lack of sensitivity and awareness to the upheaval that is taking place throughout the world. Political regimes are falling and power is changing hands in a drastic, almost inconceivable manner. Furthermore, this is being done without war or bloodshed, without even disturbing the commercial activities of the world.

First and foremost, we see a change in Russia, the country in which the Previous Rebbe and his students had their roots. After more than seventy years of rule by a powerful regime which cast fear into the heart of every citizen of the country, there has been radical change. In a very short time, sweeping reforms have been put into effect by the leaders of the country and they have spread to the other countries who follow their ideological thrust.

Similarly other countries — including China, India, and Japan, countries whose combined populations number in the billions — are in the midst of radical political change. The most miraculous aspect of this process of transition is that it is being carried out peacefully, without bloodshed, something that has never before happened in the history of man. In previous generations, whenever there was a revolution, destruction and bloodshed came in its wake. Indeed, we do not have to look past the second world war, to see the devastation that can accompany political change. In contrast, today the change is coming in a more complete fashion and yet, in a peaceful manner.

[The upheaval in the world today is reflected even in the physical being of the world. We see many more earthquakes have occurred now than in the previous years. Here, too, G‑d’s kindness and mercies are evident since the damage wrought by these earthquakes, is comparatively less than in the past.]

One may ask: Of what relevance are these events to the Jews? A Jew’s mission is to study Torah and fulfill mitzvos and the events that transpire regarding the gentiles have little relevance for him. Nevertheless, these events are significant in two contexts:

a) They reveal the greatness of G‑d and His kindness and mercy. This miraculous turn of events is obviously a sign of the greatness of G‑d and the lack of bloodshed a revelation of Divine mercy and kindness. We must acknowledge and give thanks for such Divine Providence.

b) This strengthens our faith in Mashiach’s coming. One of the signs that our Sages gave for Mashiach’s coming was political upheaval throughout the world. Thus, when we see such events taking place, our anticipation of Mashiach’s coming is increased.

Everything which transpires in the world is a result of the service of the Jews as alluded to in the Torah’s statement, “He established the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the children of Israel.” Thus, our efforts in Torah and mitzvos — including our efforts to spread the observance of the seven commandments given to Noach and his descendants — will have a direct effect on spreading peace and stability throughout the world. In this light, the International Conference of Shluchim which involved representatives from countries all over the world takes on a new significance. Their efforts in spreading G‑d’s truth throughout the world will contribute to the positive changes that are occurring throughout the world and prepare the world for the ultimate change, the coming of Mashiach, when “the sovereignty will be the L‑rd’s” and “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover up the ocean bed.”