One of the challenges that parshat Toledot forces us to face is whether we develop independence or dependency in the parent-children relationship.
The Torah opens by: “these are the generations of Yitzhak” [v’ele toledot Yitzhak], yet it does not go on with the latter’s children (like in other instances in the Torah) but with the generations of Abraham: “Abraham begat Yitzhak”. A known midrash tells us that God formed Yitzhak’s face similar to Abraham’s, for everybody to know that it was he who fathered Yitzhak (see Midrash Agadah, Bereshit 25:19 and also Rashi). Maybe our Sages felt how difficult it was for Yitzhak to get free from his father’s influence. We find indeed in our parashah, Yitzhak mirroring many times Abraham’s behavior. But his results weren’t as successful. Imitating the success of the previous generation is not a way of gaining accomplishment.
Yitzhak’s dependency on his father, or Abraham’s difficulty in letting the son of his old age go and develop himself, all made it hard for Yitzhak to walk independently. Who knows? Maybe the story of the Binding of Yitzhak, the Akeda, symbolizes the sacrifice of the dependent child on the altar of a parent who cannot release him … and yet God says to him: “Let him go!”
A lesson for all the generations.
We meet then the two siblings: Esav and Yaakov, who struggle with the imprint cast by their parents – the names, that fix behavior; the preference, that fixes behavior. The names: Esav, a man of doing (esav-aso = alef-samekh-vav = to do), a man of handwork. A practical person without any thought, reflection or cogitation, without any ability to evaluate. He’s a man of here and now – either he does, or he dies. And Yaakov, a person who arrives at his goal by indirect ways – he tracks [okev], he bypasses [okef] , he follows [meaqev], he hampers [meakev]. They both mirror what their parents established for them. And everybody, parents and children alike, enter into a series of actions/mistakes that only perpetuates the difficulty of recognizing the value and the dissimilarity of each one of them, as well as the value of being dissimilar.
Another lesson for all the generations.
It will take two parshiot, 21 years, and a lot of suffering from both sides (mainly from Yaakov), until both brothers would be able to be free from repeating the model established by their parents… and to meet… and to recognize each other… but the wounds and the scars will remain.
Everyone meant well and thought of the wellbeing of their children. But they not always regarded their children. In fact, they saw in their children their own reflection, forgetting that “toledot”, generations, speaks of “going forth” and not “going back”. It speaks of “we give, we guide, we show, we teach… and you must go on without imitating”.