Isaac the Builder
It’s now the second night of Succot and I await a visit from Isaac. It’s fair to say that this visit is the one to which I look forward with most anticipation as Isaac is the least familiar of the Seven Guests. I wonder about him. The verse makes it clear that Abraham was chosen, “It is You, God the Lord, Who chose Abram (Nehemiah 9:7).” Jacob, too, was chosen, “But hear now, Jacob, My servant, and Israel, whom I have chosen (Isaiah 44:1)!” There is no verse that speaks of Isaac as being chosen. In fact, when Maimonides (Laws of Idol Worship, Chapter 1:3) describes the transmission of Abraham’s message through the first generations, he speaks of Jacob as being appointed, and Levi also, as being appointed. However, he says only that Abraham made his message known to Isaac, but he never describes Isaac is being appointed by Abraham. There seems to be something missing about Isaac, and I can’t wait to ask him why.
My eyes are closed as I ponder Isaac’s life and mission. I open them to find my guest sitting facing me across the table.
“Do you feel chosen for a special mission in life?” It’s as if he was reading my mind.
“No,” I respond, “I feel that God has given many gifts to me, but that it is entirely up to me how to use them.”
“So,” Isaac continues, “you do not feel chosen. Do you feel that you have been appointed to a special position?”
I chuckle, point to my less than expertly assembled sukkah, and say, “and the position to which I have been appointed is not much better than the construction of this sukkah!”
“Did my father not visit you last night? Did he not describe to you how his first home was built in the air, so to speak, standing alone without any support from anyone other than himself (See “Abraham the Builder.”)?”
“Yes, he did visit me and speak of beginning my own construction project so that I could live a life in which I create my own destiny.”
“So then, how can you possibly describe this sukkah as something lacking, rather than the beginning of a major construction project to create something infinite, ‘above the stars’? If you truly desire to live a life in which you create your own destiny, you must understand that it is your choice and that you must assume the responsibility to appoint yourself as head of your unique project.”
“Did you do that?”
“Yes, my son, I did. My ‘project’ began as I lay bound hands and feet on an altar with my father standing over me prepared to sacrifice me to God. When I rose from that altar, I realized that I would have to build a life of my own. I did many of the things my father did. I visited Gerar. I dug the same wells he had. I understood that I could do the same things my father had done before me and still make them my own actions. You sit in a sukkah as did your father before you, and as so many of your brethren do. You recite the same prayers. You practice the same mitzvot. Do you do it only as your father did, as others do, or are you able to make each thing your own?”
“I try to do each thing as my own.”
“So you are learning how to become a Builder.”
Isaac looks at me with piercing eyes and points out, “I suspect that you are held back by believing that you will never be as great as your father. Can you imagine what it was like to be the son of Abraham? I decided never to look back, but to look forward not only for myself, but in others as well! I was able to look at Esau, whom all are convinced was wicked and see his potential, to the point that I was willing to offer my greatest blessing to him. You will know that you are truly prepared to become a Builder, when you are able to look at anyone and see his potential. When you can see the potential for Building in each person you see, you will be able to see yourself as a Builder. I see some open spaces in your walls not just your roof. Use them to look outside the walls of your sukkah and perceive the potential for Building in all the people around you.”
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