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Toledot 5782 ~ November 5, 2021

Our Torah reading for this Shabbat begins by stating: “These are the stories of Isaac.” It then proceeds to remind us that Isaac was the son of Abraham. Why? Haven’t we just spent several chapters with father and son? I would like to think that the Torah is adding a comment by doing so. And what might that comment be? Perhaps that Isaac was transformed by what he had not only witnessed as the child of Abraham, but also in how he was both bruised and blessed by his interactions with his father. Each moment with his father was one that helped Isaac develop into who he is now.  Those individual narratives collectively will guide him along his own path as a newlywed and as a father. Perhaps even at our own moment and perspective of life, as we walk with both Isaac and his new bride Rebekah on their journey, we too might gain new insight.

Much like Isaac and Rebekah, we ultimately become transformed based on our own personal stories. Some of the experiences are legendary; some are moments of greatness; some deal with challenges; some reflect achievements.  As readers of this Biblical narrative, we understand the tension that both Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, and Isaac himself feel with the blessing and challenges of parenthood.

One person recently shared with me that “even the most challenging moments in our lives sometimes turn into great stories from the past, rather than how they originally took place.” We can look back now and smile upon them, whereas they might have been awkward or painful when we lived through them.  Our stories, for the most part, do not just define the biographical sketches of who we are, they define the “me,” or the  soul within me..

A colleague who is on a current search for a new pulpit recently asked me the question, “Earl, how do I answer the question during the interview which is always asked: “Tell me about yourself?”” He asked a second question. Often at the end of the first interviews, congregations will ask, “Do you have any questions?” He then proceeded to share with me how he answered the questions. I commented that, “Those are great answers, but they are boiler plate. Every colleague of ours will answer in somewhat similar ways.”

I suggested to him, with regard to the first question: “Share with them your soul, not your resume. They can read all about you both through your resume, what they have already researched about you online or through someone they know in your community.  Dig down deep in your soul and just share with them something special about who you are that makes you tick. Perhaps share a moment in your life that reflects who you are. Give them something personal, but not something that you might be sorry for sharing later.”

He then asked me, so, when they ask me if I have any questions should I ask them questions that I have regarding their questionnaire, and something that I want answers to? I shared with him that on an initial interview, that might be the wrong thing to do. You can ask that question at a second interview, as you start to sort out in more detail what the congregation is all about. Instead, ask them the following: “Please share with me something wonderful or inspirational about your current rabbi.” My colleague turned to me and said, “So how do they respond to that question?” Some of you who were on the rabbinic search committee a couple of years ago might remember how you responded.  I said: “Usually they say, so who wants to answer that one? Great question. And then someone digs down into his or her soul to respond.” How they respond tells you something about their soul as a congregation, and as a person. But most importantly it will tell you how they will look at you and your soul if and when you become their rabbi.

The Torah, by stating that Isaac was Abraham’s son, is perhaps asking that we, as the readers, dig down into our individual souls and ask that same question: “Tell me about your soul?” No matter how “young” we are, we can still be transformed by the stories of our lives, both from when we were children, and now that we are moving along the different stages of life.  It also guides us in understanding our children and grandchildren and their personal journeys no matter how old or young they are.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782