Who Does He Look Like? Innovation and Continuity from Generation to Generation by Rabbi Yehuda Chanales


Perhaps one the most common questions asked of any new father or mother as they walk the streets with their baby is, “Who does he look like?” For some reason, people are obsessed with deciding whether a child has the the nose of his mother, eyes of his father or head of someone else in the family! This obsession often continues throughout our lives at various family functions and even seems to make its way into this week’s Parashah. According to Rashi and the Midrash, the Leitzanei HaDor, scoffers of Avraham’s generation, claimed that Yitzchak was not Avraham’s child. To refute these, claims Hashem made Yitzchak and Avraham appear physically identical so that everyone knew that indeed, “Avraham Holid Et Yitzchak,” “Avraham gave birth to Yitzchak” (BeReishit 25:19).

While one may wonder why Hashem felt the need to respond such baseless claims issued by “scoffers” of the generation, the similarities between Avraham and Yitzchak are expressed beyond their physical appearance and pervade our entire Parashah. Avraham’s wife is barren and so is Yitzchak’s. Avraham deals with Avimelech’s taking his wife away as does Yitzchak. Perhaps most glaringly, Yitzchak’s major lifetime accomplishment seems to be the mere fact that he dug again the very same wells that Avraham had already dug before. When reading the stories of Yitzchak, we cannot help but wonder how he, of the all the Avot, was given the title of Gibbor—courageous. What is so courageous about playing a copycat game, simply mimicking the moves of his father Avraham?

The Rav answers these question with a profound insight that has serious implications for our digital age with its fast pace and constant change. According to Rav Soloveitchik (“From Generation to Generation” in The Journey of Abraham), the scoffers represented a significant challenge to Avraham’s mission. They loved and revered Avraham as a man that preached and lived by ethical values. His moving from place to place and preaching about God were nice – as long as it was just Avraham, one person with a charismatic personality. Once it became clear, with the birth of Yitzchak, that Avraham intened to pass on his values to the next generation and develop a legacy of ethical monotheism, the scoffers began to ridicule. “You think you can convince someone else to be like you? Raise a family to value what you do and want to pass those values on to your train? That’s impossible!” they argued. “Yitzchak cannot be Avraham’s child!”

        As the first receiver of the Jewish tradition, Yitzchak’s role was not to be a Mechadesh, an innovator, but to repeat the actions of Avraham to entrench his father’s values and develop a consistent path that would define Am Yisrael’s legacy. This was certainly no simple copycat task. No doubt, Yitzchak had his own personality and was interested in expressing it in his own way. He may have wanted to be like his father Avraham – paving a new path and preaching messages that had not been heard before. Besides his own personality, the time in which Yitzchak lived and personalities with which he interacted must have been different from Avraham’s. Having a different person, in a different context, doing the same things required true Gevruah. Yitzchak’s strength was precisely his ability to restrain his natural tendencies for the sake of re-digging his father’s values and continuing in his ways in a manner that proved the Leitzanei HaDor wrong. In this way, Yitzchak was quite different from Avraham even though, on the surface, much looks the same between the two.

From Yitzchak and onward, every generation of Jewish parents has confronted the challenge of passing the values of Torah and mitzvot to the next generation. Naturally, many parents believe that the only way to achieve this goal is to raise children who mimic their ways and, if not physically, then metaphorically, “look like” them. Often, this may lead to confrontation with children’s looking to chart their own paths and who despise being told that they “look like” their parents. This is certainly true an era that focuses on individuality, creativity, and innovation as defining characteristics of success. Our challenge, therefore, is, on the one hand, to learn from Avraham and Yitzchak that maintaining tradition in a quickly changing world requires a willingness to sometimes choose to mimic what we have learned from previous generation and forfeit our drive to do things differently. On the other hand, we must be willing to teaching our children to develop their own personalities and chart their own paths in order to accomplish that very same goal.

Constructive Criticism by Yonatan Kaplan

Take it Like a Man by Gavi Sragow