Closer Than You Think by Rabbi Darren Blackstein


Mankind is given the privilege of speaking to Hashem. When engaged in this act, we are very particular about the words we use. We do not make up phrases and names. Rather, we adhere to descriptions by Nevi’im and Chazal that have been handed down to us throughout the ages. Hashem is often described as our God, the God of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. This affirms that the God we pray to is the identical One that was so intimately involved with the Patriarchs. We demonstrate a link from the present all the way back to the origin of monotheism in Avraham’s time.

In our Parashah, we find Hashem being described in a somewhat limited fashion. After receiving evidence of his son’s existence, Yaakov decides to go to Egypt and see his son before Yaakov passes away. Perek 46 begins by saying that Yisrael (Yaakov) came to Be’eir Sheva, where he slaughtered sacrifices to the God of his father Yitzchak. Why does this Pasuk omit any reference to Avraham? Seforno (BeReishit 46:1 s.v. Le’Elokei Aviv Yitzchak) addresses this issue, noting that after Eisav sells the birthright to Yaakov, there is a famine. Hashem appears to Yitzchak and tells him not to go to Egypt, adding that he will be the recipient of the Promised Land.

Yaakov understands Hashem’s desire to keep Yitzchak out of Egypt. Yaakov is now about to go there for personal reasons – to see his son! Hashem’s acceptance of his sacrifice would show that he is not violating that which his father stood for. Indeed, Hashem tells him (46:3) that he should not be afraid of going to Egypt and that he and his people will eventually flourish.

It is for this reason that Hashem is described as the God of Yitzchak. Yaakov's actions are about to impact directly upon his father’s values, not those of his grandfather. Rashi, in addressing this issue, quotes Rabi Yochanan’s opinion in BeReishit Rabbah (94:5), which states that one owes more honor to his father than to his grandfather. What does Rabi Yochanan have in mind when he applies this idea of honor to our Pasuk?

Perhaps Rabi Yochanan has Avraham’s and Yitzchak’s mandates in mind, just as Seforno addresses the mandate of Yitzchak. In Perek 15, Avraham asks how he will know that he is to inherit the Promised Land. Hashem responds to this seeming lack of faith with the Berit Bein HaBetarim: Avraham will surely go to a strange land, be enslaved, and then leave successfully. From Avraham’s point of view, he is supposed to go to Egypt. However, Yitzchak is not the recipient of the same destiny. When Yaakov is about to go to Egypt, his first duty is to view his action’s impact on his father’s honor. It would be a tribute to his grandfather, but since it might compromise the honor of his father, Yaakov hesitated in leaving Eretz Yisrael; hence, the Pasuk describes Hashem only as the God of Yitzchak.

The common element between these commentaries is that they are focusing on the relationship between parent and child. When we think of Hashem, do we think of an ancient deity Who operated most prominently in ancient times? Do we picture Hashem as the Almighty One speaking to Moshe? We certainly do! This notion is indispensable in prayer. However, regarding our actions, we must realize that we are influenced mostly by those closest to us. Our parents, family, friends, and society have great impact upon how we think and what we do. When we act positively as a result of this impact, we should recognize it. On the other hand, when we act negatively as a result of it, we should be vigilant in pursuing and identifying the cause. We must realize that Hashem is the God of our parents, family, and friends. Hence, we should surround ourselves with people that show loyalty to Hashem’s Divinity so that we can, as Yaakov did, take into account what those around us stand for and never violate their connection and our connection with Hashem.

An Ambiguous Antecedent by Jonathan Karp

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