Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah –Tol’dot
I want to share a story about a dog. Bing, the dog of war, parachuted into France with his sniper handler to become a D-Day hero. Bing was one of the first dogs to be parachuted and dropped behind enemy lines alongside British paratroopers. He landed on Normandy to sniff out trouble before troops entered – even after he was wounded with mortar fire. When something didn’t seem right, Bing would stop in his tracks and point. He led the troops safely through dangerous areas. Bing saved hundreds of lives from ambush during the war. For his service, he was awarded the animal equivalent to the Victoria Cross.
Rav Abraham Isaac Kook taught, “The old must be made new, and the new must be made holy.” Even as we encourage our children to grow, we have to remember that everything grows from something. We cannot grow – from nothing. We may not make headlines, but we can change the world.
The patriarch Isaac is a weakly developed character in the Bible. Abraham (his father) and Jacob (his son) play major roles in the development of faith. Isaac seems to simply be the conduit between the two giants. His entire life moves from asterisk to asterisk. He came into this world as the child of two elderly parents and his birth caused a rift in the family forcing his brother, Ishmael, to leave home. His father tries to kill him on a mountain top. His mother leaves his father in the aftermath. His father’s servant found him a bride. It took 20 years for this bride (Rebecca) to have children and the twins (Jacob and Esau) were constantly at war with each other. His story mimics his father’s, as well. Isaac will travel the same paths and reopen the same wells his dad dug, committing to “renaming” them the same names dad gave them. Later in years, his son, Jacob, will deceive him into giving the first-born’s blessing to the second-born child. There is very little positively unique to Isaac in the Isaac story.
Many scholars argue that the patriarchic stories come from differing traditions. Each of the individuals is the prime figure in that respective tradition and the folklores overlap. While I am certainly willing to accept that the origins of the stories may be diverse, compiled into this one work, the three narratives serve an intergenerational purpose. This trinity created the fabric of all the western nations of faith.
When we think of great religious leaders, we default to thinking of the strong personalities. Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Jesus, Mohammad, etc; these are the names of the people with great and motivating stories. Still, though, we would never think of mentioning our Patriarchs and not include Isaac. For that matter, While Sarah is the matriarch of matriarchs, and Leah and Rachel (and Bilchah and Zilpah) mother the 12 tribes, not much gets written about Rebecca, either. Of course – most people never heard of Bilchah or Zilpah – mothers to 1/3 of the tribes of Israel.
Isaac and Rebecca are not only the link between generations, they preserved and passed on the tradition of blessing of health, faith, and abundance to both of their children. While Esau and Jacob lived at odds, neither could have been successful, but for their quiet parents who, even with human frailties, raised them to be strong and successful. Our quiet heroes don’t get much fanfare, but they hold the world together, none-the-less.
The athletes who score the most points, the politicians with the most bravado, and the musicians who hit the top 40 – these are the people we often look to as our heroes. Everyone wants a fan photograph with the quarterback, but who asks for one with the trainer who repairs the equipment that protects the star? Doctors get the credit for surgery, but there could be no success without the nurses, researchers, and administrators that made sure the Doctor had the resources, information, and training to administer the cure. We celebrate successful business people, but nobody remembers the teachers who held them, nurtured them, and put up with them – pushing them to succeed.
We have forgotten that the ones who make headlines are not always the ones who deserve the medals. In this day of hero-worship, we need to go back to our tradition where Isaac and Rebecca (the quiet generation) deserve honor no differently than the flamboyant bookends on either side. We need to remember Bilchah and Zilpah as matriarchs amongst our people. To quote Bette Midler – we need the wings that fly, but they need “the wind beneath” in order to soar. It is in the selfless power of this “wind” made by the quiet heroes that shape the world. This is the ultimate example of being holy. We need to return to honoring the holy.