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Why Isaac Never Left Canaan, and Why You Should Not Either

October 27, 2013

Genesis (26: 2) And the Lord appeared to him [Isaac], and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land that I will tell you.”

Rashi: Do not go down to Egypt – For he had in mind to go down to Egypt as his father had gone down in the days of the famine. He [God] said to him, “Do not go down to Egypt.” You are [as] a perfect burnt offering, and being outside the Holy Land is not fitting for you. [Tanchuma Buber, Toledoth 6; Gen. Rabbah 64:3]

The Sifthei Hachamim ad loc., apparently aware that there is no such law that one may not remove a burnt offering, an olah, from the Land of Israel, posits that maybe, just like one may not remove an animal intended for a burnt offering from the courtyard of the Temple, so too Isacc was not allowed to leave the then courtyard, i.e., the whole country.

Rashi’s explanation is also problematic because it resorts to a Midrash when there is a simpler explanation. The next verse connects G-d’s command for Isaac to stay within the land with the promise to Abraham:

(26:3) “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and I will bless you, for to you and to your seed will I give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham, your father.”

Indeed, the same holds true with with regards to Chapter 23, In Parshath Hayei Sara, wherein Abraham instructs his servant (who, by the way, is not identified by the Bible as Eliezer) to go to Haran to fetch a wife for Isaac. Many believe that Abraham’s objection to Isaac going there was for the same reason that Rashi mentions in Chapter 26, namely, that Isaac was like a burnt offering and confined to the land. However, the Rashbam mentions that Abraham’s objection was much more practical:

(24:7) “The Lord, God of the heavens, Who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and Who spoke about me, and Who swore to me, saying, ‘To your seed will I give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.”

Rashbam ad loc.: “The God of the heavens Who brought me here and will give this land to my seed – I know that He does not want me to distance my seed my seed from here, for if it were so [that He did want to do so], why would the Holy One, blessed be He, bring me here? Therefore, I am sure that He will send his angel to grant you success in your mission and keep his promise to me.”

Thus, we learn a number of lessons from Abraham’s words.

1. That even though Abraham was so opposed to Isaac marrying a Canaanitess he made his servant take a solemn vow not to allow it, he was willing to release his servant from that vow if the alternative was taking Isaac abroad, something which Abraham was certainly not going to allow.

2. Even though Abraham had received God’s word that his seed would inherit the land, he did not sit back and wait for the prophecy to come true. Rather, he tried his utmost to make it come true, like any other prophet or believer in the prophets would do. Best example: Nathan, in I Kings 1, which by no coincidence is the haftara for  Hayei Sara, tries to make sure that the prophecy he received concerning Solomon reigning after David, comes about. As I have written about before, It is this rule that compels us to act on the principles of Religious Zionism because it is our duty to actively bring about the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies, and not wait passively for them to come true. Prophecy is less a prediction of the future than it is instruction of what to do.

3. Isaac and the rest of Abraham’s true seed are to remain in the land. Why then would Jacob and his children ever be allowed to leave? Answer: Jacob’s first trip abroad was on the order of his parents, who felt that it was better for him to leave the land to find a suitable wife than to remain and marry a local girl (27:46, 28:1-2), as that was to be temporary, and at least some of their children remained with them. On a deeper level, though, it must be understood that when Jacob left to Haran, and later, when his whole family moved to Egypt, this, like when it would happen later in Jewish history, was considered a form of punishment. That is, Jacob and his sons should never have left, but because they sinned, it was decreed that they would be banished from the land for a certain period of time.


From → parasha

One Comment
  1. Nice.

    A little off topic, but is this also where we learn that [at least parts of] Azza are part of Eretz Yisrael? Because when Yitzhaq went into P’lishtiah, he did not violate the leaving of Eretz Yisrael?

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