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Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.
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Home » Education, Family Life, Toldot

Toldot: Like father like son

Submitted by on November 23, 2019 – 10:51 pmNo Comment | 1,688 views

Like father like son, an idiom rooted in the words of Ezekiel (44:16), “like mother like daughter,” describes a child that resembles his parent in either mannerism or behavior. This idiom could truly be applied to our forefather Isaac, who is introduced to us in the Torah as, “Isaac, the son of Abraham.”

The people of that generation doubted that Abraham had fathered Isaac at his advanced age. G-d, therefore, made Isaac a prefect replica of Abraham and everyone knew that Abraham begot Isaac. Hence the passage, “Isaac, the son of Abraham, Abraham fathered Isaac.”[1]

Righteous people, live a holistically integrated life. By this I mean that their external demeanor and inner persona are synchronized—their outsides reflect their insides. If Isaac’s outer appearance resembled his father’s, it is likely that so did his values and priorities. Like father like son, just as Abraham was fully committed to monotheism, morality, spirituality, and integrity, so was Isaac.

To Parent
How do we raise our children to share our values and beliefs? Isn’t it natural for children to want to strike out on their own, to show some originality and to distinguish themselves from their parents? Why didn’t Isaac feel the burning desire, so often discerned in today’s youth, to be different from his father?

The answer is found in the same passage. Why was “Isaac the son of Abraham?” Because “Abraham fathered Isaac.” There are two ways to father a child. One is to be the child’s physical father but leave the upbringing to others; teachers, babysitters, housekeepers, etc. The other is to be the child’s active father. To father one’s child actively and continuously throughout life.

G-d said of Abraham, “I know him because he teaches his sons and his household to emulate him—to preserve G-d’s path and to do righteousness and justice.”[2] G-d knows Abraham. To know someone in the biblical sense, means to have intimate knowledge of what they are like on the inside—what makes them tick, what excites them, to know their priorities. For example, Reb Mendel of Kotzk was once asked how well he knew his son. He replied, “I know the thoughts with which I brought him into the world.” To know someone is to know them within. G-d said, “I know Abraham.” And what does G-d know about him? What makes Abraham tick, what is his greatest passion? To teach his children and household.

Abraham did not leave the teaching to others. He took on Isaac’s parenting himself. He might have been a hundred years old, but he tended to Isaac, loved Isaac, and taught Isaac. Do you want to know why Isaac turned out to be just like Abraham? Because Abraham fathered him constantly and lovingly. When you are devoted to your children, your children are devoted to you. When you love your children, your children love you too.

But love and devotion is not enough. In fact, these can often smother a child. Children also need respect.

In His Way
Reread the passage and note how much Abraham respected his son. “Isaac, the son of Abraham,” Isaac did indeed resemble Abraham, but Abraham did not set out to raise a replica of himself. “Abraham fathered Isaac,” he raised Isaac to be like Isaac. He did not raise Isaac to be like Abraham.

King Solomon famously wrote, “Train a child according to his way, even when he grows old, he will not veer from it.”[3] Good educators know how to train a child according to his way. Good teachers know how to identify and nurture a child’s unique strengths. Good parents know how to cultivate a child’s unique traits and transform them into assets.

We want our children to adopt our values and beliefs, but we want them to pursue these values in their own way. We want them to put their unique stamp on the principles that we impart. If we train children in their way, they won’t need to rebel to make their mark. They won’t feel the need to push back because our very training will empower them to assert their independence.

If, on the other hand, we try to cast our children in our own mold, they will feel stifled and confined. Many will feel the urge to push back and embark on their own path. These children turn from their parents’ beliefs, rebel against their parent’s teachings and betray everything their parents hold dear. If this is the only outlet our training allows them, they will take it. And we have only ourselves to blame.

You might be an introspective person whose strength lies in your integrity. If your child is an extrovert whose strength lies in leadership, cultivate that strength in him and don’t view it as a fault. You can raise your child with your principles, your values, and your beliefs, but you can’t raise your child with your traits. They are his and his alone.

Respect your children when they are young, and they will respect you when they are old.

Abraham and Isaac
The idiom, like father like son, usually refers to similarities in mannerism and behavior. But Isaac’s outer demeanor and behavior were very different from those of Abraham. Abraham was an outspoken leader who tended lovingly to his many visitors, he held mass lectures for his followers, he staged public debates with his detractors, he confronted kings, he fought wars, and he negotiated treaties.

Isaac did none of those things. Isaac lived a quiet life. He dug wells, planted crops, and raised his children quietly. When we say like father like son, we don’t mean that Isaac was like Abraham in mannerism or behavior. We don’t mean that his outer demeanor was similar to his father. Applied to Isaac, like father like son refers to his inner demeanor. His beliefs, values, and priorities, were exactly like his father’s.

Why was, “Isaac, the son of Abraham?” Why were Isaac’s beliefs and value system a replica of Abraham’s beliefs and value system? Because, “Abraham fathered Isaac.” Abraham cultivated the unique Isaac’s strengths and never sought to remake his son in his own image. By letting Isaac be Isaac, he freed Isaac up to absorb and internalize Abraham’s teachings. There was no need to push back, no need to rebel against the teachings, because Abraham gave Isaac ample room for self expression.

The Torah is not just a storybook. The Torah is a book of instruction. By telling us about Abraham and Isaac, it teaches us how to raise our children. Our role as parents is to impart values, beliefs, and principles. It is to instill a love of ethics and a commitment to morality. It is not to mold our children’s character and personality; it is not to suppress the traits that are different from ours.

We must allow our children to be themselves. When we let our children be themselves, they will surprise us by how much they resemble us.

[1] Genesis, 25:19 explicated in Midrash, Tanchumah, Toldot, Chapter 1.

[2] Ibid., 18:19.

[3] Proverbs, 22:6.

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