"This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac." —Genesis 25:19
The Torah portion for this week, Toldot, which means “offspring,” is from Genesis 25:19—28:9, and the Haftorah is from Malachi 1:1–2:7.
The Torah portion of Toldot, “offspring,” begins almost exactly the same way that the portion of Noach began. Here we read, “This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.” There we read, “This is the account of Noah and his family” (Genesis 6:9). In Hebrew, the phrases are identical. So the Jewish sages are puzzled. If the opening words are the same, why aren’t the names parallel? If Noah was chosen as the title for the reading about him and his family, why isn’t Isaac’s name given the same treatment?
Let’s review. A few weeks back, we explained that the Torah portion of Noah was named for its leading man in order to teach us the power of one person’s effect on generations to come. The story of the flood was the story of humanity, but it all hinged on one individual and that person was Noah. So he got the spotlight.
Now let’s take a look at this week’s reading. It’s the story of Jacob and Esau’s birth, Esau selling his birthright, and Jacob receiving the blessings of the firstborn. This is the story of Isaac and his family, but the emphasis is not on Isaac; it’s on his children. The storyline of our portion for this week is who will continue the legacy of Abraham and Isaac?
In Jewish culture, people place much value on a person’s family lineage. For example, most people with the last name “Cohen” can claim that they come from the prestigious tribe of Levi and the group of priests called cohanim. Others can trace their heritage to legendary rabbis who lived decades or even centuries ago. Still, some can even trace their families all the way back to King David. But I have a friend who used to say, “That’s nice. However, more important than who came before me is who will come after me.” It’s impressive to claim a prestigious lineage, but it’s even more impressive to be the ancestor of great men and women yet to come.
And that’s the message of this week’s Torah portion. Noach celebrates those who came before us. Toldot asks us to consider who will follow us. Noach is about the heritage that we received. Toldot is about the legacy that we pass on.
What legacy will you leave behind? Long after we have exited the stage of life, our children, with God’s help, will play the leading roles in the greatest story that the world has ever known.