We all worry about what our legacy will be. For many of us our most important legacy will be the lessons and messages which we pass on to our children.
Abraham, who remained childless until he was advanced in age, was also very worried about his legacy. At the age of 89 he finally had a son, Ishmael, with his second wife Hagar.
At the age of 99 G-d promised him that he would have a son, Isaac, with his first wife Sarah.
Interestingly enough, Abraham tried to turn down the offer, asking that instead of having a second son, his first son Ishmael should grow up to be righteous and thereby the continuation of his legacy. But he was turned down. G-d said that Abraham’s legacy would not come from Ishmael but rather from Isaac.
This is quite puzzling! Abraham served G-d faithfully for so many years and surely knew what it meant to bring up proper children. Why couldn’t G-d fulfil his request and instead of giving him another son just allow him to pride himself with son he already had and raise him to continue in his ways?
The answer lies in the difference between the two sons from birth. While Ishmael’s mother Hagar was a young woman when she bore him, Isaac’s mother Sarah was already 90 years old. Isaac was a miracle baby.
Ishmael symbolises our educated Judaism, the knowledge that we were taught and that makes sense to us.
Isaac symbolises our supernatural belief in G-d, that does not conform to logic and that is built into our souls regardless of our knowledge or upbringing.
The start of the Jewish people, which was to be Abraham’s legacy, could only sprout from a child whose very existence was something supernatural. Because while Ishmael had a very solid upbringing and education from his illustrious father, that would not create a nation so strong that could prevail over all the troubles that would befall them. It is specifically because of our roots in the supernatural realm, that we have this miraculous existence as a nation.
So while education and understanding our Judaism is important, the true secret to Jewish continuity is if we can pass on an unshakable belief which is rooted in the depth of our supernatural souls, beyond logic. If we could pass that on to our children and those around us then we too will have an everlasting legacy.
Adapted from the wisdom of the Rebbe, LK"S V.1 Parshat Lech Lecha