Carrying Forth the Greatness

Yael Eckstein  |  November 1, 2021

Rabbi Eckstein praying over his daughter while Jerusalem is in the background.

This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.
Abraham became the father of Isaac.
— Genesis 25:19

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Toldot, which means “offspring,” from Genesis 25:19—28:9

As the daughter of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and builder of The Fellowship, I know very well what it means to be raised by a great man. Simply put, the impact that he had on the lives of so many people all over the world is a wonder to think about. And every day I am reminded that I am his daughter.

Some people who are the children of great men and women are not so happy about their situation. They feel stifled rather than proud. They feel that either way they lose. If they continue the legacy of their parents, they are merely living in someone else’s shadow. On the other hand, if they try to escape their parents’ legacy, they are forsaking the greatness bequeathed to them.

For me, being Rabbi Eckstein’s daughter is an honor, privilege, and most of all, a responsibility. In fact, carrying forth the greatness of the previous generation is central to Jewish identity going all the way back to the Bible.

Carrying Forth the Greatness

In the opening verse of this week’s Torah portion, there is an extra phrase that teaches us this lesson. After telling us that we will now learn about “the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac,” the verse repeatedly tells us that “Abraham became the father of Isaac.”

But there are no extra words in the Bible. According to Jewish tradition, if the Bible repeats something that we already know, there is a lesson that we are being taught.

Ten times in the Bible, a verse begins Eleh toldot, “this is the account of the family line of” someone. In nine of the ten times, the Bible then mentions only the person’s children. Only for Isaac does the Bible begin “the account of the family line” by repeating the fact that Abraham was Isaac’s father.

The lesson is as simple as it is powerful. This verse, and the section that follows, in fact, tells us all about Isaac’s children. With this extra phrase, the first thing the Bible tells us about Isaac is that Isaac was Abraham’s son. In other words, the story of Isaac as a father begins with the fact that Abraham was his father.

Isaac was the first person born into the covenant of Abraham. He knew carrying forth the greatness of his father was his primary responsibility. And Isaac understood, as we must, that parenting toward faith begins with an embrace of that legacy and greatness of the giants who came before us.

Your Turn:

Think of some great people of past generations who inspire you. What lessons have you learned from these “patriarchs and matriarchs” in your life?