Living Meaningful Lives
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
In this week’s parasha, Toldot, the Torah tells us that Rebecca and Isaac had twins, Jacob and Esau. We also find the famous story of the “sale of the birthright” by Esau to Jacob. We read the story of Isaac and Rebecca in Gerar in the land of the Philistines, including the problems Isaac had there with both the wells that his father Abraham had dug, and the wells Isaac himself dug. Finally, we are told what happens when Isaac, old and blind, is tricked by his son Jacob into giving him the firstborn blessing. Fearful of how his brother Esau might respond to the deception, Jacob leaves his home.
Toldot is the only parasha in the book of Genesis where we can find Isaac as the main character. You may argue that he was also a main character in the story of the binding of Isaac, in parashat Vayera, but there he was an extremely passive character. We can find many stories in Genesis about Abraham and Jacob, who were Isaac’s father and son, respectively. But we cannot find more than one or two stories where Isaac has a featured role.
According to the Torah, Isaac lived for 180 years (Genesis 35:28). He lived longer than his father Abraham, who reached the age of 175 (Genesis 25:7), and longer than his son Jacob, who reached the age of 147 (Genesis 47:28). If the Torah had told the stories of the patriarchs in relation to the years they lived, Isaac should have deserved much more space in the Book of Genesis. It is clear that, for the Torah, having lived longer does not mean having lived a more interesting or meaningful life.
Most of us yearn to live a long (and healthy) life. We can apply the discoveries of scientific research and benefit from modern medicine. Today we know that adopting a healthy lifestyle and following medical protocols may allow us to live longer lives than our predecessors. Still, we can never know how long we will live.
The amazingly simple fact we learn from comparing the life spans of the three patriarchs is that long lives are not always synonymous with meaningful lives. Isaac lived many years, but the Torah did not devote a great deal of space to his life. On the other hand, his father Abraham and his son Jacob lived shorter lives than Isaac, but the Torah contains great stories about them, from which we may learn valuable lessons.
Our desire to live longer and healthier lives than our forebears is understandable, justified and, perhaps, inevitable. However, we should not forget that living a long life should not be a goal in itself. The most important thing is what to do with the precious time we are granted in this world. Even with relatively short time we can do so much!
Enjoy the time you have, and take advantage of your years!