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In the Footsteps of the Forefathers

In the Footsteps of the Forefathers

Nov 29, 2023

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֔ב שׁ֛וּב אֶל־אֶ֥רֶץ אֲבוֹתֶ֖יךָ וּלְמוֹלַדְתֶּ֑ךָ וְאֶֽהְיֶ֖ה עִמָּֽךְ׃

Then Hashem said to Yaakov, “Return to the land of your fathers where you were born, and I will be with you.”

Genesis 31:3

At the age of seventy-five, Abraham encounters God for the very first time. In this seminal moment, God commands him to leave his family and all that is familiar to him and embark on a journey to an unspecified land. With a faith that would define his legacy, Abraham sets out for this unknown land, understanding instinctively that this land is none other than the land of Israel (Genesis 12). God’s promise to Abraham is profound: this land will belong to his descendants as an eternal inheritance.

God’s initial communication with Isaac, Abraham’s son, also centers on the land of Israel. In a time of famine, God instructs Isaac to remain in the land, though his father Abraham had descended to Egypt when famine struck in his time (Genesis 26:1-5). Similarly, Abraham also ensures that Isaac would not leave the land when he insists that his servant find a wife for Isaac who would move to Canaan, rather than having Isaac leave for Haran (Genesis 24:6). However, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, finds himself compelled to leave the cherished land. Fleeing from Esau’s wrath after obtaining their father’s blessing, Jacob departs the land of Israel for Haran (Genesis 27:41). It is on this journey that God communicates directly with Jacob for the first time.

God’s first interaction with Jacob, too, revolves around the land of Israel. As Jacob lies down to rest before leaving the soil of Canaan, he dreams of angels ascending and descending a ladder. In this vision, God appears to him and promises that the land will be inherited by his descendants. God assures Jacob of His continual presence and vows to bring him back to the land, a promise that offers hope even as Jacob faces exile (Genesis 28:15).

After two decades in Haran, the time comes for Jacob to return to Canaan. God appears to him once more, urging him to return to his homeland. With his family in tow, Jacob sets out for the promised land, a journey marked by divine guidance and protection. Thus, God fulfilled the promise He had made to bring Jacob back from his exile. This divine call to Jacob is a timeless echo, resonating with every Jew in the diaspora: “Return to the land of your fathers… and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3).

Rabbi Aharon Wexler notes the significance of the fact that the first divine encounter of each of the Patriarchs is intricately tied to the land of Israel. Abraham is commanded to journey to the land, Isaac is instructed to never leave it, and Jacob is promised a return to it. These narratives serve as enduring models for the Jewish people, guiding their relationship with the land of Israel through the ages.

In Judaism, there is a foundational concept known as Ma’aseh avot siman l’banim – the actions of the fathers are a sign for the children. This principle underscores that the lives of the Patriarchs serve as models for their children throughout history. In this case, each Patriarch sets an example for different aspects of our connection to Israel. Those who have the opportunity to make Aliyah and move to Israel are inspired by Abraham’s call to Lech-Lecha – to journey to the land. Those who already live in Israel are encouraged, through Isaac’s story, to cherish and remain in their homeland. And for those Jews who find themselves in the diaspora like Jacob did, there is an enduring promise of return.

Never before has it been easier to move to the land of Israel. Never before has the land of Israel needed her children to return as much as she does now. “Return to the land of your fathers…” We await the day when all Jews will return to the land, fulfilling the promise of Jeremiah “Your children shall return to their country” (Jeremiah 31:16).


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