Parashat Toledot- The Intergenerational Bond
In the beginning of Parashat Toledot, the Torah tells that Yishak pleaded with Hashem for children, as his wife, Ribka, was infertile. G-d answered his prayers, and, when Yitzhak was 60 years old, Ribka delivered twin boys, Yaakob and Esav.
The Torah uses the term ‘Va’yetar" in reference to Yishak’s prayer, a term which connotes an especially intense, fervent and desperate plea. Yishak is described as pleading in desperation for children.
We might wonder why Yishak prayed with such desperation. After all, Hashem had already promised his father, Abraham, that he would produce a large nation, and Hashem also informed Abraham that "Ki Be’Yishak Yikareh Lecha Zara" – this nation would descend specifically from Yishak, and not from any other child (Bereshit 21:12). Yishak undoubtedly knew about this promise, and so he knew that he would produce offspring. Why, then, did Yishak feel so desperate, if he was assured that he would have children?
One explanation is that he wanted to produce children with Ribka, a righteous woman, rather than having to marry somebody else. This might be why the Torah tells, "Va’yetar Yishak Le’Hashem Le’nochah Ishto" – "Yishak pleaded to G-d on behalf of his wife," because his request was to have children together with Ribka.
An additional answer emerges from the Gemara’s teaching in Masechet Baba Mesia (85a), "Anyone who is a Torah scholar, his son is a Torah scholar, and his grandson is a Torah scholar – then Torah will never cease from his offspring, forever." The Gemara cites as the source of this concept a verse from the Book of Yeshayahu (59:21), in which Hashem promises that the words of Torah "will not leave your mouth, the mouth of your offspring and the mouth of your offspring’s offspring…from now until forever." Hashem assures that if one studies Torah, and his children and their children also study Torah, then Torah will remain among their descendants for all time. Tosafot (Talmud commentaries by Medieval French and German scholars), in Masechet Ketubot (62b), add an important condition to this rule, establishing that it applies only if the three generations see each other. If a son, father and grandfather all learn Torah and see each other, then this has a powerful impact which guarantees the continuity of Torah in this family for all generations.
The rationale behind this idea is that when one sees his religiously-devoted grandparents, he is inspired and humbled by their example. The Torah tells later in the Book of Bereishit (50:23) that Yosef’s grandchildren were raised "Al Birkeh Yosef" – which literally means, "on Yosef’s knees," or his lap. On a deeper level, however, the knees are associated with humility and submission (as we say in the Alenu prayer, "Kil Lecha Tichra Kol Berech" – "before You, every knee shall kneel"). Yosef’s grandchildren were humbled by their exposure to this great figure. This is the impact that grandparents can have on their grandchildren, an impact which endures for all time.
Returning to Yishak’s prayer, the explanation might be that although Yishak knew with certainty that he would beget children, he desperately wanted to ensure that he would have a child who would see and be exposed to Yishak’s father, Abraham. This was a vitally important condition that needed to be met to assure that Torah would remain forever among his descendants, the Jewish People. Yishak was born when Abraham was 100, and Yishak’s children were born when he was 60 – meaning, when Abraham was 160. As the years passed without his begetting a child, Yishak realized that his father was aging, and he wanted to ensure that his son would have his illustrious grandfather as part of his childhood and upbringing. This is why he pleaded so desperately – not just to have a child, but to have a child soon enough for him to be influenced and inspired by Abraham’s greatness.
Yishak’s prayers were answered. Yaakob and Esav were born 15 years before Abraham’s passing, and the Hid"a (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806) writes that during those fifteen years, the three generations – Abraham, Yishak and Yaakov – learned Torah together, thereby assuring the eternal continuity of Torah among Am Yisrael.
One of the hallmarks of our community is the close bond between the generations. Children in our community have regular exposure to their grandparents, and, very often, to their great-grandparents. This is, undoubtedly, one of the contributing factors to our community’s great success in perpetuating our values and traditions.
May we all be blessed with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and we may all serve as inspiring role models for future generations, thus doing our part to ensure the everlasting continuity of Torah.