“There Was a Child Went Forth”

Oct 29th, 2010 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
Walt Whitman

From “There Was a Child Went Forth”

There was a child went forth every day.

And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain

Part of the day,

Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

I first read this poem when I was very young.  My sister (#2) made up a story about a Simcha who could become something else once each day simply by staring at something he wanted to be.  She showed me the poem when I asked her from where she came up with such a great story idea.  I spent the next few days trying to become something else. One day I stared at my Chumash, the next day, an airplane, and then all sorts of things, until I accepted that it would never happen. I made sure to not stare at any of my sisters for fear that I might become one, a sister, that is. Horrors!

I wonder whether Isaac ever stared as his father, hoping to become another Abraham, or that Abraham would become part of him.  We know that father and son were different, which is why we refer to the “Lord of Abraham and the Lord of Isaac,” rather than, “The Lord of Abraham and Isaac;” each had a different relationship with God.

However, it’s natural for a child, especially of someone as remarkable as Abraham to want to be like his father. Is there a point at which we can see Isaac choosing to be different from his father and forge his own way, a different relationship with God?

Hagar and Yishmael had been chased away by Sarah years earlier in an effort to protect Isaac from their negative influence. Yet, Isaac, still inconsolable after Sarah’s death, goes to bring Hagar back to Abraham for marriage. The man, so devoted to his mother, while still mourning for her, brings back the woman she chased out for his sake, to marry her husband! It is at that particular moment that the Sages see Isaac forging his own path: Abraham had prayed Shacharit, as a “Stander,” Isaac prayed Minchah as a conversation. Isaac instituted a new time and a new form of prayer. Surely the two events, bringing Hagar back and instituting new parameters of prayer, are related.

I also wonder if Isaac would have been ready to marry Rebecca before he took these two steps.

What happened at that moment?

Until that moment, Isaac was almost passive, just as he insisted on being at the Akeidah, when he requested to be tied up so as not to flinch. Eliezer went to find a wife for him. It was being done for him, not, by him. Until that moment, Isaac had to be protected by Abraham and Sarah, and they expelled Hagar and Yishmael for his sake.

Isaac would not passively enter his marriage; it wouldn’t be a real relationship. He had to demonstrate to his father and himself that he no longer would or needed to, stand on the sidelines while others did for him or protected him. He brought back Hagar to show that he could protect himself.

Isaac was ready to engage life on his own. He prayed, not in a standing position, as did his father, but as part of a conversation, an active participant. He did not pray in the morning when all was light and bright, but at the meeting point between morning and evening, as if to say that he could deal with ambiguity.

Thus, when Rebecca first sees him, the verse describes him as an “Ish,” a man, a fully-grown man, ready to become himself, not to be his father.

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