The God Of Isaac

As Jacob descends to Egypt he calls on the God of Isaac to assure him that this decision is correct.

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Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

Jacob/Israel is happy again. His sons have told him the good news, Joseph is still alive, well and running the show in Egypt where he has single-handedly thwarted nature by saving up for the lean years. Jacob is about to make "yeridah" (descend from Israel) and before he does so, he brings sacrifices to Beersheba to the God of Isaac.

Rashi, the foremost medieval commentator, wonders why Abraham's name is not invoked here as well. He answers, "We learn from this that one is more obliged to honor his father than his grandfather."

Rashi's answer still leaves some questions. If both Abraham and Isaac's name were mentioned and Isaac's name came first, I might be able to accept Rashi's answer, but it certainly doesn't justify omitting Abraham's name completely. What are the attributes of Isaac's relationship to God that are unique and germane to this circumstance? What do we know of the God of Isaac?

Almost Sacrificed

Isaac was almost sacrificed by his father Abraham to God. He saw the knife. God is soon after called "Pahad Yitzchak" (Isaac's fear). Isaac's fear, the fear of incomprehensible punishment. The fear of the most Mighty of forces which render the small and mighty vulnerable and exposed. The Torah hints to us that Jacob is afraid to leave the land of Israel and thus incur the wrath of "Isaac's Fear."

He appeals to the God of Isaac, whose life was almost taken, so that he may be allowed to see his son who was almost taken from him. Would it not be the cruelest of ironies for Jacob to die before being reunited with Joseph?

Jacob is acutely aware that leaving the land even during a famine leaves him exposed and so he prays to the God of Isaac who tells him "not to fear" and that he is doing what has already been ordained. Jacob knows now that he will indeed be united with his son and that he is also assured that all of his steps will be assiduously following the plan of the Holy One.

This is the guidance he asked for and this is the guidance he was given. Jacob knew what he wanted to do, but he did not know if it was the "right thing." He required assurances. Sometimes the right thing is not the thing we would really wish to do. At these times, like Jacob, it is appropriate to recognize when that is and seek counsel from the "God of Isaac."

Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Rabbi Avi Weinstein is the Head of Jewish Studies at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas City.