What Makes You, You? by Menachem Kravetz (‘20)  


Parashat Toledot begins, “Ve’Eileh Toledot Yitzchak Ben Avraham, Avraham Holid Et Yitzchak”, “And these are the generations of Yitzchak, the son of Avraham, Avraham fathered Yitzchak” (BeReishit 25:19). The final clause of this Pasuk seems to be superfluous. What is the point of stating that Yitzchak was the son of Avraham, only to once again mention that Avraham fathered Yitzchak?

One answer, given by a variety of Meforshim, is that Yitzchak Avinu looked exactly like Avraham Avinu. Everyone was able to see that Yitzchak was truly the son of Avraham due to their similar facial features. (Some people may have believed Avraham could not be Yitzchak’s father due to the age gap between them.)

But why is it important that Avraham and Yitzchak looked exactly the same? What is the Torah really coming to teach? Is there a deeper meaning behind this repetitive formulation?

The Radak answers that the repetitive clauses show that Yitzchak shared the same values and qualities as Avraham. The Torah shows that Yitzchak was not only Avraham’s son in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense as well. He embodied the same qualities as Avraham and walked in the ways of G-d, just as his father did.

Physical characteristics of human beings are, to a large extent, genetically determined. They cannot be changed easily, and they are also what people will inevitably first see when they encounter another individual. It is these features that make people look different, and, in a physical sense, make each person unique.

However, when someone interacts with another person, one delves deeper into the latter’s psyche. They discover that one is not merely as shallow as their physical features, but also that the individual holds a set of values. These features reveal what influenced a person’s development, and what makes the person unique on a spiritual level. Anyone is able to choose what kind of a person they want to be, how to act in society, and how to behave in front of G-d. These values are always changing for the better, as people work on their Ahavat and Yirat Hashem, enhancing their own integrity through their continued spiritual development.

It is widely known that the Torah does not waste words-- each word is important, and serves a purpose. The Radak reveals that physical features do not define an individual, but it is rather an individual’s set of values that determine their personal identity. Everyone always has to work on their values, trying to become a better person. A person who strives to become the best person they can possibly be is truly able to gain a substantial identity. The Torah’s seemingly repetitive formulation conveys this message.

When the Torah introduces Yitzchak, it does not just describe his physical features, but actually prioritizes his spiritual values. The Torah shows that Yitzchak Avinu had the same values as Avraham Avinu: he was a Tzaddik, he was Yashar, and he walked in the ways of G-d. The Torah prioritizes the values of people, and how important they are in defining a person in regards to their interactions with those around them and in their relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.        


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