Thursday, November 4, 2010

Toldot 5771 By Me- Rabbi Neil Fleischmann


Toldot reads like a Divine essay on family systems as it chronicles wide-ranging aspects of building a household. Theparsha covers infertility, family coalitions, favoritism, and sibling rivalry. It provides a study of early child rearing, which includes the challenges of recognizing personality types and the need to build on strengths.

Of particular interest to me is the fact that
Parshat Toldot includes insights on how being a son or daughter impacts a person's life. The word toldot is pregnant with implications. Rashi translates it as offspring, while Sforno says toldotmeans story. These are related, as one way or another a person's story is his offspring.

Curiously, the
parsha's opening statement, "And these are the toldot of Yitzchak", is followed by neither a list ofYitzchak's children, nor by a story about Yitzchak. The second half of the sentence, "Avraham gave birth to (holeed et) Yitzchak", doesn't even sound like it's about Yitzchak.The first sentence of Toldot teaches us that a person's story, a person’s children, can be understood through discovering who birthed him.

Upon reaching the age of responsibility an individual becomes obligated to keep Torah and
Mitzvot. This is known as abar or bat mitzvah. Upstanding young Jewish men and women are called bnei and bnot Torah. I find this placement of the image of being a son or daughter into the context of observance of mitzvot to be striking.

On the other hand, one who commits an
aveira is called a baal or baalat aveira; one who has a sin (similar to the wayYosef was described, as baal chalamot - the one who had dreamt, baal chov - one who has a debt, and of course the generic baal - one who has a wife ( perhaps because that is the most cricial link for a man to have anything in this life). The message seems to be that in the realm of mitzvot we must remember that we are someone's son or daughter. However, when we miss the mark of what is right we must own our behavior and not blame our parents for what is ours.

While some may feel inclined to blame mothers or fathers for all that is difficult in life while crediting themselves with success and growth, the opposite approach seems more appropriate. Intertwined throughout
Parshat Toldot and foreshadowed in the opening pasuk is the idea that parents and children are deeply connected. Goodness of children is a positive reflection on parents, and by logical extension on grandparents. The negative actions of offspring, however, are their own responsibility.

Yaakov and Eisav were the children of Yitzchak and the grandchildren of Avraham in terms of potential and actual goodness. When they reached the responsible hour of their Bar Mitzvah they chose who they wanted to be. One son went to hunt and be out in the field, the other chose to sit in tents and reflect and they were held accountable for the consequences of those decisions.

We are all
someone's son or daughter and our actions reflect on our lineage. It serves us well when we remember that what our parents did was, as Leo Buscaglia put it, the best they could. It is up to us to own and work to correct our imperfections.

May we be blessed with continued growth as we tweak the good work our parents began.