July 25, 2024
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Famine: food is scarce, the sheep have nowhere to graze, what does one do?

Yitzchak decides to follow his father’s footsteps, do his basic hishtadlut (exertion, action) and move to a different country. At this point, God tells him unequivocally to stay in Eretz Yisrael and promises him that he and his descendants will inhabit and flourish in the land.

Why was he not permitted to leave Eretz Yisrael? Indeed, when Yaakov was about to leave the land due to famine, God promises him that He will go down with him and bring him up. Yitzchak is unique that he was commanded to live his entire life in the land.

The classic answer offered by Rashi is that from the moment he was tied on the altar, Yitzchak became sanctified to Above and needed to live his whole life in a place permeated with kedushah (holiness). Rabbi Ben-Zion Firrer expounds on this idea: The model of the Akeidah represents Yitzchak’s mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) to do the will of God. He willingly, with humility and joy, was ready to give his life for God. In commanding him to stay in the land, God wanted him to now be moser nefesh for the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the land). Yitzchak models for us the ability to give of ourselves completely for God’s mitzvot. Rav Firrer adds that since Yitzchak did this chesed of not deserting the land, the land repays him with tremendous bounty. The Chumash tells us that he planted that year and he reaped “meah shearim.”

Rav Soloveitchik in his classic essay “Kol Dodi Dofek” poignantly describes how the Land of Israel had waited thousands of years until her children came back to give forth her bounty. Rashi, on the verse “And I will bring the Land into desolation” (Vayikra 26:32), explains that this is good tidings, that the enemies will not find any goodness in the land. Throughout the millennia all the nations that tried to settle Eretz Yisrael were unable to cultivate it. The land did not betray the people of Israel but waited until we would return to once again be fruitful. The Rav critiqued Orthodox Jewry at that time for not hearing the “knock of the beloved” to come back to the “faithful wife” who had waited so long for this moment of reunion. Yitzchak models for us this faithfulness to the land and how we will also reap the benefits.

The Tur compares the three Avot to the three pilgrimages: Avraham is connected with Pesach, Yitzchak with Shavuot, and Yaakov with Sukkot. Rabbi Leib Mintzberg, in “Ben Melech,” explains that Avraham is promised to be a large nation, and on Pesach we became a nation. Yitzchak reaped a great harvest, which connects with Shavuot, and Yaakov is promised protection from God, which is the theme of Sukkot. Clearly, we need to understand the connection between Shavuot and the productivity of the land.

There are two chagim that celebrate the harvest of the land: Shavuot celebrates the beginning of the harvest; at that time we bring the first fruit. Sukkot is the time of the final harvest, when we bring the water libation. “Ben Melech” draws an important distinction between the two chagim.

Shavuot celebrates Eretz Yisrael; it is time to thank God with the first fruit offering of the beauty and bounty of the land. It is at this time, when we see the wheat fields in their abundance, that we are overflowing with gratitude to God for this special land He has given us. This corresponds to the second bracha in Birkat Hamazon, to thank God for the “eretz chemdah tova u’rchava” that is our inheritance.

Sukkot, by contrast, is the holiday that focuses on the special hashgacha (protection) that God shows to His people. The produce is already in the silos; we recognize that it is only through God’s protection that we will be able to maintain these blessings. This corresponds to the third bracha of Birkat Hamazon, wherein we speak about how God is our Shepherd—the One who cares for us.

Yitzchak is the quintessential model of the Av who is connected with the Land and is the only one the Torah mentions who planted in the land. Hence, Shavuot, which celebrates the gift of Eretz Yisrael, is the chag of Yitzchak.

Parshat Toldot should inspire us to reconnect to the specialness of Eretz Yisrael and to be ready, like Yitzchak, to be moser nefesh for the land and for Torat Eretz Yisrael.


Rebbetzin Shira Smiles, a lecturer and author, is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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