The Work Was Unfinished

Isaac experiences frustration when he discovers many of his father's accomplishments were not fully realized.

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When Abimelech later comes to meet him with an entourage, Isaac, backed by God's assurance of support, has the strength to confront the Philistine king about his harassment: "Why have you come to me now, seeing that you have been hostile to me?" Stunned by Isaac's directness, Abimelech is forced to recognize God's hand in Isaac's prosperity, and swears a treaty between them that holds for future generations. The Torah underscores that the conflict has been finally put to rest: While Abimelech and Abraham merely parted ways after their treaty Isaac and Abimelech depart "in peace."

Just as Isaac had to finish the work left behind by the patriarch Abraham, we too often find that previous generations of iconic activists left us to resolve some of the greatest problems of global injustice, even after their groundbreaking achievements. Despite the freedoms gained by the historic fall of apartheid, South Africa today still faces tremendous xenophobia and racism, with many black citizens still living in abject poverty, marginalized in shantytowns and slums.

We see this tension elsewhere too: Tremendous strides were made during the 1970s to reduce the number of people around the world who were hungry and malnourished, but in recent years, the commoditization of staple foods and the collapse of local agricultural systems have led to a world where more than one in seven people are chronically food insecure. In many countries, thanks to the work of grassroots feminist organizations, the rights of women continue to advance; but many women around the world still face gender discrimination, and sexual violence is increasingly being used as a weapon of intimidation in armed conflicts.

We have inherited an awe-inspiring legacy as well as profound problems left unresolved. Our task, like Isaac's, is not to be intimidated by our predecessors' renown, nor discouraged by the challenges they left behind. God's blessing inspired Isaac to move the story forward despite the barriers, to find sustainable solutions to the problems that were left for his generation. It is up to us find the inspiration and confidence in our day to pick up where our predecessors left off, and to strive to leave the world "in peace."

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Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster is director of education and outreach for Rabbis for Human Rights--North America. She was ordained in 2008 from the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she also received her MA and BA in Midrash. She is a contributor to The Jew and the Carrot and serves on the boards of Hazon and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.