Yitzchak means “laughter.” In Isaac’s case, the connection with his life story is not immediately apparent. On the face of it, he’s hardly the exuberant figure his name suggests. In fact, he’s nearly invisible: though he’s the most long-lived of the three Patriarchs, the Torah hardly tells us anything about him. There’s a chapter about how his father and the akeidah, another about how his father’s servant found him a wife, and one about how his wife and son tricked him. But what does Isaac do?
We’re told that he worked the land and raised crops – the only one of the three Patriarchs to do so (Abraham and Jacob were shepherds). And there’s a detailed account of the wells he dug.
Isaac teaches us that, ultimately, the laughter of life comes – paradoxically – from self-effacing toil. If you want biographies written about you, become a warrior. If you’re looking for tranquility, become a shepherd. But if it’s joy you seek, be a farmer and a well digger. Plow and sow, breaking the heavy clods of your world to coax life and bloom from its soil.
Tranquility is great, but it’s not a reason to live. Joy comes from conquest: from the dragon-slaying campaigns of youth, but ultimately from the self-conquest that is life’s fiercest and most silent battle. Know any quiet, unassuming folks, silent laborers at life’s toil, frothing with joy within? These are the Isaacs of the world.
What about women? With women it’s the same story – only it doesn’t take them so long to figure it out. Women are natural laughers.