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Parashat Toledot 5782

A D'var Torah for Parashat Toledot

November 5, 2021

Click HERE for an audio recording of this D’var Torah

Our Torah portion opens with the words ‘Ele toledot (Gen. 25:19) – variously translated as “These are the generations/records/lineage/descendants/begettings of…”; basically, carrying us into the next generation, and, in the case of this week’s portion, continuing the story of Isaac and Rebecca.  However, with the announcement of a barren wife (Gen. 25:21), the next generation is put in jeopardy. Ultimately, they will have children, but in looking back, what might they have shared with each other?
I was walking in the field in the late afternoon;
           I was riding on a camel…
I looked up and saw her from afar;
           I fell off my camel… and put on my veil…
I heard about her generosity and strength;
           He brought me into the tent that had been his mother’s…
I loved her;
           I loved him…
In my loss she brought me comfort;
           I had left my home and found comfort in his arms…
Almost twenty years later and no children;
           For almost twenty years we tried and tried…
I cannot think of being with anyone else;
           No handmaid, no second wife, no surrogate for us…
I appealed to God – for my wife is barren;

           I was right by his side – and in time, my own appeal: Oy! What did I ask for?


In her training manual “Infertility and Family Building Support” (I&FBS), Rabbi Idit Solomon, founder of Hasida, writes that: “Infertility is a human issue. Anyone who has dreamed of starting a family who then faces challenges having children, or a possible reality without children, faces a deeply human struggle.” (p. 1) Isaac and Rebecca struggled together for close to twenty years. We don’t hear the comments from family and friends, but can imagine them. Perhaps we can hear their frustration echoed in the words of Jodi and Ezra, a modern-day couple struggling with infertility:

“… We continued to try to conceive naturally… before pursuing any interventions. During that time that we began to experience the painful social effects of infertility: complex emotions upon hearing others’ good news, sadness accompanying each month’s period, the inability to fully express to others how the miscarriage affected us. Though Jewish communal life is one of the most important things to us, it became too painful to be so involved in a community blessed with so many babies and young families. Slowly, we began to withdraw from events where newborns and children would be, eventually spending many Shabbatot and hagim on our own to avoid potential triggers. The pain of the miscarriage, the increasing isolation, and the sheer realities of time pressed us to pursue our first IVF (Invitro Fertilization) treatment sooner than we intended.” (I&FBS, p. 12)

Isaac and Rebecca tried for so long! We can imagine the pain of loss they experienced, the increasing isolation, and the sheer realities of time… and we can understand Isaac finally turning to God on Rebecca’s behalf. (Gen. 25:21)

And when the pregnancy occurs, it might not be so easy: “But the children struggled in her [Rebecca’s] womb, and she said, ‘If so, why do I exist?’ And she went to inquire of the Eternal…” (Gen. 25:22)

For both Isaac and Rebecca, it was important for them to know that they were not alone; God’s presence and partnership was evident to both of them.

But it’s not only just to have children, but to have a future generation. Modern-day Lisa and Josh share:

“The idea of Judaism being passed from parent to child was most present a few months ago when Josh’s father died suddenly. In our mourning, Josh and I were pained that we couldn’t offer his father the gift of being a grandfather, and the ability to see the world anew again through a child’s eyes. Yet perhaps now we are even more determined to carry on the legacy of his father by having the opportunity to name a future son or daughter after him. To us, Judaism is about family, tradition, values, rituals, and love. We yearn to share the gifts we were offered to a future generation.” (I&FBS, p. 13)

God points this out to Isaac as well: “Reside in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; I will assign all these lands to you and to your heirs, fulfilling the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your heirs as numerous as the stars of heaven…” (Gen. 26:3-4) Indeed, God is connecting Abraham, through Isaac, to the next generation(s) and sharing God’s gifts and blessings.

From Adam to Noah was ten generations, and from Noah to Abraham was another ten generations. One “begot” to the next and to the next; they are listed so mater-of-factly, as if it is so easy to have children. But with our Torah’s stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Rachel, we soon find that their stories of barrenness and infertility reflect the human struggle to bring the next generation into this world.         
Postscript: Hasidah is an organization whose mission is to build Jewish families and to provide support and resources to those struggling with infertility. Rabbi Idit Solomon teaches: “Our bodies have limits. Our souls have infinite capacity for connection. The emotional desire to be a parent is innate, but it pales in comparison to the capacity for connection that one’s soul seeks. Infertility isolates people from their own sense of self, from each other and from Divine connection. Only when we work to strengthen our sense of connection can we approach wholeness.” Rabbi Solomon works with clergy, educators and other Jewish professionals to help us support people in our communities facing infertility through pastoral care, community building, and providing leadership for change. Hasida also offers IVF grants and loans. To learn more, visit www.hasidah.org.