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   by Jacob Solomon

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There was a famine in the Land… G-d appeared to (Isaac) and said: 'Do not go down to Egypt. Sojourn in the land which I will specify…' (26:1-2).

Rashi quotes the Midrash which brings a technical reason why Isaac was not allowed to leave the Holy Land. The Land was already intrinsically sacred. Isaac had been specified as a burnt offering in the Akeida (the Binding of Isaac). Technically, the offering loses its sanctity once removed from an area of holiness. It would not be fitting for the same to happen to Isaac, by means of leaving the Land of Canaan.

In addition, Isaac was one of the founding fathers of the Israelites. The Book of Genesis is concerned with the establishment of G-d's teachings by individuals - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. By contrast, the Book of Exodus (and beyond) recounts the growth and development of their descendants, which turned His teachings into the Code of Life for the entire Israelite people.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were three successive generations who founded G-d's People. As Ecclesiastes puts it: 'The three-ply rope will not be broken in a hurry' (Eccl. 4:12). Rashi (ad loc) explains if a man, son, and grandson, are all Torah scholars, Torah leaning and observance will continue down successive generations. He quotes Isaiah in support: 'And I - this is My Covenant… will not cease from your mouth, from your children, and from you grandchildren - for ever'. (Isaiah 59:21)

However, that does not mean that they were mere duplicates of one another. All three Patriarchs had different tasks - whose pattern sets a picture for the future generations even to this very day. Abraham innovated. Isaac matured and consolidated. Jacob diversified.

To illustrate. After the Holocaust, the urgent task in the Haredi communities was to rebuild the Torah communities that had been destroyed in Europe - in Israel, North America, and elsewhere. 'Abraham-type' pioneer groups included Torah U-Mesorah in North America, and the transplanting of Eastern European Yeshivot of Mir, Slobodka, Telshe and others into new countries - in some cases within communities where such intensity of Torah learning and observance was new. Similarly, in the UK, there was a growing acceptance during the 1950s and 1960s of a boy spending a year or two in Yeshiva before commencing his tertiary education and professional training - which increasingly became subsequently jettisoned in favor of learning Torah full time for a decade or more: the second 'Isaac' generation. They 'sojourn in the "land'" (Torah learning). In the third 'Jacob' generation - today - there is a greater diversification within elements of the Haredi communities, with some 'leaving' the land on a partial basis. Whilst full time Torah learning continues to be prized, young men obviously not suited for it move over to approved, sexually segregated, army units (in Israel) and skills-based training in fields such as accountancy and hi-tech.

A similar pattern exists in the strictly Orthodox Israeli National Religious milieu - represented by the Hesder Yeshiva (combining Torah studies and army service) and Yeshiva High School, with most of the curriculum being in Torah studies with Talmud in the Lithuanian tradition (and a grafting of the teachings of R. Abraham Isaac Kook), plus a strong emphasis rooted in the Kabbalist frame of the notion of the role of Greater Israel per se on the path to the Final Redemption. The National Religious sector's institutions of higher Torah learning only got into their serious stride 'Abraham generation' in the late 1940s (despite earlier sporadic attempts), which cut new ground in its Yeshivot at Nehalim, Rehovot, and a handful of others. The second intensely observant - 'Isaac generation' - developed in the post-1967 era, with the most academically gifted boys within their circles being accepted into the new Yeshiva High Schools that were multiplying in Judah and Samaria - such as Mitzpe Yericho, Sussya, and others - and higher Yeshivot, such as Gush Etzion. These stressed the importance of intense learning within the matrix of working towards the final Messianic destiny of the Jewish People inside their Biblically-defined borders. By the 1990s, however, the Yeshiva High Schools were entering the 'Jacob generation' - becoming actively aware that the extremely demanding and powerful cocktail of intense Torah studies and keeping up to national matriculation standards was very much only for the academically gifted, and somewhat Ashkenazi-biased in outlook. New Yeshiva High schools were established in the last half generation, including those for students gifted in music, and also those for whom heavy Lithuanian-type Talmud study for much of the day did not bring the best out of them.

'The three-ply rope will not be broken in a hurry' (Eccl. 4:12). As the Ramban develops several times in his commentary to Genesis: 'The actions of the forefathers are a sign to the children' - their descendants.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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