This week’s Parshah opens with the words, “And these are the generations of Yitzchak the son of Avraham, Avraham fathered Yitzchak.”
All of the commentators ask the meaning of the Torah’s words, after all if these are the generations of Yitzchak the son of Avraham, then why does the Torah go back one generation and tell us again that Avraham fathered Yitzchak?
Rav Chayim ben Atar, the holy Or HaChayim presents several answers to this question. I would like to examine two of these.
The Torah tells us that Avraham fathered Yitzchak to compare these two. While Avraham grew up in Terach’s house and was influenced by the idolatrous surroundings, Yitzchak grew up in Avraham’s house and was educated in serving God from birth. Yitzchak had the rare and special quality of being a tzadik ben tzadik, a righteous person who is the son of a righteous person. Indeed, Rashi tells us that even though both Rivka and Yitzchak prayed for children, God answered Yitzchak’s prayers (see BeReishit 25:21) and not Rivka’s prayers. The reason was that Yitzchak was a tzadik growing up in the house of a tzadik, but Rivka, even though she was a righteous person, grew up in the house of Betuel and under the influence of her brother Lavan. (See Rashi ad loc.)
So the comparison between Avraham and Yitzchak in the opening words of the Parshah is to stress that Yitzchak had this advantage over his father, Avraham.
However, the Or HaChayim also presents another explanation. The Torah wants to tell us about Yitzchak, after all, it opens with the words, “These are the generations of Yitzchak.” But the Torah immediately informs us that Yitzchak was a great person because of his growing up in the house of Avraham. Avraham achieved his greatness by himself, Yitzchak had it easier, he was the son of Avraham.
How can the Or HaChayim bring these two explanation next to each other? According to the first explanation, Yitzchak was greater than Avraham because Yitzchak was the son of Avraham, whereas in the second explanation Avraham was greater than Yitzchak, because Yitzchak had it “easy” being the son of Avraham.
I think that the two explanations of Rav Chayim ben Atar teach us a deep truth. There are people who grew up in religious homes and continue to strictly observe the Torah and the mitzvot, on the other hand, there are those who never saw Torah observance at home, but came to be religious and observant by themselves.
Both of these have an advantage over the other, but both have there separate challenges. The advantage of the former, is that they never experienced sin, they had no negative influences from birth and thus they retain a special relationship with God. However, their religion is easy for them, sometimes too easy, and what we do not struggle with we often cannot appreciate.
The latter has to fight their natural tendency to sin, they have grown up in a value system in which certain actions and activities are condoned and even encouraged. These are often things that the Torah prohibits. On the other hand, they have been able to make the positive choice to serve God.The tzadik ben tzadik needs to appreciate his background and still have the joy and novelty of the Torah. The tzadik who grew up in the non-religious home needs to recognize the great strides that he has made and these will counteract the influence of his youth.