The Torah portion of Toldos begins by relating that “Abraham fathered Isaac.” The commentator, Rashi, notes: “The cynics of that generation were saying that ‘Avimelech fathered Isaac.’ What did G-d do? He caused Isaac’s countenance to be like Abraham’s. Everybody then testified that ‘Abraham fathered Isaac.’
Was it so strange that Isaac should look like Abraham? It is the most natural thing in the world for a child to look like the parent. In fact, there would have to be a special reason for them not to look alike. Why, then, do our sages indicate that making Isaac look like Abraham was special?
Abraham and Isaac, father and son, were different in many critical areas. Abraham was totally dedicated to G-d out of love for Him, while Isaac was wholly devoted to G-d out of fear and awe of Him.
Since intellect is the cause and root of emotion, it follows that the reason Abraham and Isaac differed so radically in their emotional approach was because they differed intellectually as well.
Abraham and Isaac differed, too, in their manner of spiritual service. Abraham’s service of G-d involved hospitality and making G-d known to the populace – revealing G-dliness from above downwards. Isaac’s spiritual service was symbolized by his digging of wells, involving as it did removing the obstruction that concealed the wellsprings and revealing the well-water that flowed from below upwards.
A son will truly resemble his father when both father and son share similar personalities, are alike intellectually, emotionally, etc. Abraham and Isaac, however, possessed completely different personalities. Therefore, Abraham and Isaac should not have looked alike, they should have had totally different appearances – Abraham a kind countenance, Isaac a stern one.
Herein lies the “difficulty:” What could be done to these opposites – Abraham and Isaac – to ward off the scoffs of the cynics who said that Avimelech fathered Isaac?
In order for their words to have no credibility, G-d did something out of the ordinary. He changed the order of things and saw to it that Isaac looked like Abraham so that all would testify that Abraham fathered Isaac.
Bearing in mind that Abraham is symbolic of kindness and Isaac of severity, we learn an important lesson from the fact that G-d made Isaac look like Abraham.
Whenever a Jew is faced with a decision regarding spiritual service, whether to serve with the attribute of kindness and benevolence or with the attribute of severity, he should choose to act kindly and benevolently.