"These are the chronicles of Isaac son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac." (Gen. 25:19)

"…Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac": Even though the Torah has already told us that Isaac was the son of Abraham, it emphasizes this fact here in order to juxtapose the chronicles of Isaac it is about to detail with the chronicles of Ishmael it just finished describing. Although Ishmael was also the son of Abraham, Abraham's true, spiritual heir was Isaac. (Rashi)

The Torah makes this point only now, at the beginning of parashat Toldot, because only by observing Isaac's children and career does it become evident that he was very different from Abraham. Isaac produced an Esau, and he spread G‑d's message in a very different way than his father did. These facts could well prompt us to think that he was more of an innovator interested in striking out a new path than a perpetuator of his father's approach to life. G‑d made Isaac's face look just like Abraham's…

"…Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac": The Torah repeats the fact that Abraham and Isaac were father and son because there were scoffers who - noting that Sarah had been barren for years and gave birth to Isaac only after having been taken by Abimelech - said that she must have become pregnant by Abimelech. Therefore, G‑d made Isaac's face look just like Abraham's, so everyone had to admit that "Abraham was the father of Isaac". (Rashi)

But isn't it natural for a child to look like his parent? The miracle, here, was that despite the fact that Abraham and Isaac personified opposite paths in holy living - which should have made them look different - they still looked alike. Furthermore, by making them look alike, G‑d was showing that, in fact, their different approaches to their divine mission were in fact, one and the same.

[Note: Cf. Ecclesiastes 8:1 "A person's wisdom enlightens his face." Thus, the variations in the way people think and approach life should account for differences in their facial appearance.]

In order to demonstrate that Abraham and Isaac were father and son, G‑d could have arranged to have Abraham born looking like his future son, Isaac - i.e. evincing the quality of stern austerity (gevura) rather than kindness (chesed). Instead, He chose the opposite path, having Isaac look like Abraham. The lesson for us here is that when we have the choice of accomplishing something either in a loving way or a stern way, we should choose the path of love. The true way to actualize chesed is by following it with gevura

Since Abraham personified the attribute of chesed and Isaac the attribute of gevura, one might think that Ishmael - who personified a fallen form of chesed - should be considered the true perpetuator of Abraham's message to the world. The Torah therefore emphasizes that this is not the case. The true way to actualize chesed is by following it with gevura. This is not simply because in order to actualize chesed, gevura must contract the beneficence into a form in which it can be received, but also because gevura increases the beneficence of chesed both quantitatively and qualitatively. (Gevura means "strengthening" or "intensification", besides "limiting" and "withholding.")

We also see here that G‑d made special efforts to convince the skeptics and scoffers of the truth. Similarly, we should also spare no efforts to bring the truth of G‑d's message to all strata of society, even to those that appear to be on the bottom rungs of society and morality. In so doing, we fulfill the Mashiach's charge to the Baal Shem Tov, "Let your wellsprings extend to the farthest reaches", which, he promised him, would ensure his arrival.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 20, pp.100 ff.

Copyright 2001 Chabad of California http://www.LAchumash.org