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Are We Becoming Our Parents? #700

11/05/2021 05:56:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashah Toldot
“Isaac dug anew the wells which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham.” (Genesis 26:18)

Are We Becoming Our Parents?

A current television ad for Progressive Insurance mocks middle aged adults, who God forbid are in danger of “becoming their parents.”

The commercial features a fictitious Dr. Rick, who scolds baby boomers for packing homemade snacks before boarding an airplane or wearing plaid jackets or bringing comfortable cushions to football games.

The irony of this highly successful campaign is that it focuses on baby boomers, who spent so much energy distancing themselves from their parents when growing up.

Let’s be honest. Who among us likes to be compared to our mother or father?

We claimed to be our own persons — products of a new generation, which prided itself on rejecting old norms and practices. Yet, whether we like it or not — as the Torah inspires us to consider this week — we are our parents’ children.

At the close of last week’s Parashah, Abraham dies and is buried alongside his beloved wife Sarah. Judaism’s first couple is succeeded by Isaac and Rebekah, carried forward by a tradition of hospitality, hard work and a belief in a transcendent God.

The Torah continues this week with Toldot, “the Story of Isaac,” and goes to great pains to demonstrate that rather than clearing new life paths, Isaac spent much of his time retracing his father’s old ones.

The Torah refers to this as “digging wells,” telling us that, “Isaac dug anew the wells which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham.” Genesis 26:18

The Book of Ecclesiastes will later expand upon this theme, reminding us that, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

In this week’s Torah reading, we learn that Isaac has become extremely prosperous. “Isaac sowed in that land…,” says the Torah. “The Lord blessed him and the man grew richer and richer until he was wealthy.” Genesis 23:13

Just like dad.

But being rich had its costs. Success attracted rivals — in this case the Philistines fill Isaac’s wells with earth, thus denying him access to water.

However, rather than identify new water sources, Isaac’s servants clear out the old ones. And soon, they locate a well of spring water — the same that sustained Abraham’s plentiful crops and cattle.

Later, God appears to Isaac and predicts that multitudes will be born under the family banner in the future.

Just like dad.

How interesting that this week, the Torah’s effort to spotlight the continuity of the Jewish people highlights both the successes and failures of Abraham as a conduit into the future.

Often, I hear a son or daughter reflecting upon the life of a parent by saying, “They were not there to be our best friends. Their job was to raise us right.” Affection wasn’t always verbalized, but we knew it was there.

Yet, as we witness the birth and growth of our own children and grandchildren, we — in many ways — draw upon the examples of our parents, who wanted us to wear an extra sweater or walk to school in clumsy but warm winter boots.

Most of all, our parents taught us how to survive and trained us to be good human beings — menschen.

And we wish the same for our children and grandchildren.

As I venture deeper into grandfather-hood, I see myself “digging the wells” of my parents and grandparents.

I slip the extra five dollars to my grandson when he visits. I’m the one who secretly shares a grape popsicle or a piece of chocolate with my granddaughter — even though there is little nutrition involved.

And in so doing, I remember my Bubbies and Zaidies.

There is nothing wrong with becoming our parents or grandparents.

We thought we would be different. We thought we could change the world. But in the end — in part — the best we can do today involves standing on the shoulders of those who came before us.

Were our parents perfect? Of course not, but neither are we. Like them, we are just trying to do the best we can.

For as we enter our golden years, we realize that there is nothing wrong with re-digging in order to find Judaism’s eternal spring. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with becoming a bit like our parents — as Isaac did.

It is that spring of life — which has sustained us — that will continue to quench the thirst of our children and grandchildren.

It is how we — and those who came before us — have and will continue to carry Judaism into the future.

The words and the tools may change from generation to generation, but one thing remains the same: Love.

And that is the core of who we are, and who we will always be.

Just like Mom and Dad.

Shabbat Shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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