WHY THE CONCERN ABOUT SCOFFERS?

December 1st, 2016

The Torah portion of Toldot starts of with a cryptic statement: “These are the children of Isaac son of Abraham; Abraham gave birth to Isaac.”

Besides for the obvious problem of Abraham not being the only parent, nor the one who literally gave birth to Isaac, this statement seems both irrelevant and out of place as a starting point for the narrative that introduces us to Isaac and Rebecca’s children, Jacob and Esau.

Rashi suggests that this statement was required to fend off the “scoffers of the generation” who cast doubt on the possibility of Abraham having fathered a child, and he adds that Isaac looked exactly like Abraham, so that everybody would acknowledge Abraham as his father.

Rashi’s explanation seems to generate more questions than it resolves. Why would the Torah be concerned by what scoffers may have said at that time? And why did these scoffers not cast doubt on Sarah’s ability to give birth? What was everyone else – the non-scoffers! – thinking about this miracle child, and why is this issue mentioned here for the first time?

Rabbi Dunner looks at a number of sources and tries to get to the bottom of this mysterious statement.

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