We don't get to choose our parents. There are a lot of things in life that we can control (or believe we can...), but one of them is NOT lineage. Nevertheless, our relationship with our folks can be turbulent. As
as teenagers we're constantly embarrassed to be associated with them; and as adults we both discover how much we are like them, and we learn to respect their choices and challenges. But it can be a difficult relationship. Sometimes the patience and understanding we have for other people is hard to extend to family members. Our issues (and theirs) are just too close and too personal; we can't look at them objectively. All of these realizations that I've listed can also be transferred to our ancestors, our parents' parents a hundred times over. Usually, we don't know that much about these REALLY distant relatives... but then, of course, there's the Torah.
I've always struggled to understand Isaac. He seems to have no identity besides being the son of Abraham and the father of Jacob. He's a placeholder, a bench warmer. Overwhelmingly, the stories of our ancestor Isaac involve action that happens TO him or around him.
He's never the active DOER, he never takes control of his life and his fate. Look at what we know about him: He is nearly sacrificed by Abraham; Sarah and Hagar fight over him; A wife is found for him; His wife and son trick him. Even in the stories of his interactions with the Philistines, we hear of him digging a well and being chased away by bullies, only to dig another one and be driven away again, and then a third time as well. What is the point of Isaac? What purpose does he serve?
But then I have to stop myself. We do this to people in our lives a lot, don't we? Think about whether they do or don't serve a purpose in OUR lives? We criticize who they are, encourage them to be 'better,' challenge them to shape up, and eventually try to threaten them into changing.
And all because they don't look/act/speak/behave the way WE want them to. Maybe we're embarrassed that Isaac is our ancestor? We like strong leaders, like Abraham, Joshua, and David. But that is precisely why we have to remind ourselves that we don't get to choose our ancestors. We don't pick our parents, and we cannot force someone else to conform to our ideals or expectations. Isaac is a human being. In fact, I'm more certain that he was a real person than many other Biblical figures, because I doubt anyone would purposely write an imagined character this way! Just as we need to, in life, transition from eye-rolling teenagers to respectful adults, here too we need to accept Isaac for who he is, and strive to understand and make our peace with him.
So now that we're ready to take a fresh look at Isaac, what do we see? First of all, we surely underestimate the strength it took to survive the incident with his father on Mount Moriah. What must it have taken to persevere and recover from nearly being sacrificed on an alter by your parent? With no psychologists to help you process, and no prescription medicine?? He stayed in the land
during a famine - a true test of faith - something his father was unable to do. Eventually, Isaac decided to become a farmer, a profession about which he knew nothing, and he became incredibly successful and wealthy. And perhaps the greatest lesson we learn about Isaac is that he was a man of peace. Despite provocations from Philistines, and strife between his children, Isaac remained a diplomat and kept his cool. And we miss all these things, because it's just so hard to admire Isaac when we're too busy judging him, and comparing him to other ancestors. Sometimes our emotions and our tightly-gripped grievances cloud our vision, and make it hard to appreciate traits that really are impressive and laudable. We just need to take a step back and open our eyes (and hearts) to really see that. What an important reminder to us all, whether we're talking about ancient forefathers or present-day fathers.
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