The Torah portion of Toldot's opening verse reads, "And these are the children of Isaac the son of Abraham; Abraham gave birth to Isaac" (Genesis 25:19). From time immemorial, the commentators have questioned this verse's redundancy: having told us that Isaac is Abraham's son, why does the verse go on to state that Abraham gave birth to Isaac? The Sages have taught us that such a redundancy in the Torah must come to teach us something we might not have realized or understood without it.
Rashi explains this redundancy in two ways. Firstly, by repeating Abraham's name twice, the verse is hinting that only Abraham, and not Abram, could father a son like Isaac worthy of carrying on the family traditions. This explanation is based on the premise that when God added the letter heh to Abram's name, his entire being was qualitatively transformed. Secondly, Rashi offers a Midrashic reading explaining why Abraham's paternity had to be stressed. The "scoffers of the generation" argued that Isaac was Abimelech's son, for Sarah only managed to conceive shortly after being taken by Abimelech (Genesis 20:1-18). The Midrash explains that the verse stresses that "Abraham gave birth to Isaac" to teach us that God made Isaac look exactly like Abraham in order to dispel the notion that Isaac was only raised as his son, but was not biologically his own.
In addition to these insights, this verse also contains deeper spiritual and mystical allusions. Abraham was naturally an extrovert, the epitome -- or in Kabbalistic terminology, the "chariot" or vehicle -- of chesed (lovingkindness), of expansiveness and of giving. Isaac was just the opposite; he was the "chariot" of gevurah (strength), an attribute manifested by introversion, contraction and the setting of specific boundaries.
At the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, an archetypal exchange of spiritual energies occurred. To perform God's command, Abraham had to transcend his definitive characteristic of chesed, while Isaac had to go beyond his fundamental attribute of gevurah. As a result of undergoing this test, each learned how to integrate the other's form of spiritual energy and, consequently, both reached entirely new levels of consciousness.
Chassidut finds this spiritual process alluded to in our verse: Isaac is the son of Abraham, as he now contains an aspect of chesed, too, while Abraham is now able to "give birth" to the aspect of Isaac, gevurah. Kabbalah and Chassidut refer to this holistic dynamic as inter-inclusion, a highly-developed stage of spiritual growth.
The difficulty that both Abraham (in his relationship with Sarah) and Isaac had in conceiving children can also be understood on a mystical level alluded to by the necessity of inter-inclusion referred to in this verse. As mentioned above, Abraham and Sarah were not destined to have children in a natural way. Only Divine intervention and a new state of consciousness represented by God changing their names enabled them to overcome nature and give birth to Isaac.
In contrast, Isaac's obstacle to conceiving children was spiritual, not physical. Although Isaac was able to have marital relations, his deep inner essence of introversion prevented him from conceiving children. Only after fully integrating a portion of Abraham's aspect of chesed at the Akeidah was he able to give in such a way that he could have children. "Abraham gave birth to Isaac," thus means that Abraham imparted to Isaac the ability to give birth.
From these teachings, we learn the importance of going beyond our basic inbred natures so as to make room for and validate character traits wholly inimical to us. By allowing these opposite attributes in, we provide ourselves with the opportunity to give birth to new levels of self and to fully actualize our potentials. Some of life's hardest tests are specifically in this area. Yet, just as Abraham and Isaac were able to pass their respective tests, so too, we, their descendants, can pass ours.
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