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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Have No Fear

Well Batsheva, I have a few things in mind. I'll lay them out and let all of you decide.

Beer Sheva figures prominently in a story about Yitzchak. In Chap. 26 we learn that a famine comes to the land of Canaan and Yitzchak sets out to go to Egypt as his father had done under similar circumstances. God, though, stops him when he gets to the land of the P'lishtim (Philistines). He tells Yitzchak to not go down to Egypt, to live in his present land and that He would be with him, bless him and fulfill the oath he gave to Avraham about having a great nation.

So Yitzchak stays and, in fact, does quite well. However, after some difficulties with Avimelech, the king of the P'lishtim, he moves on, or up, to be more precise, back to Beer Sheva (Genesis 26:23). Then the text tells us:

בראשית פרק כו

(כד) וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְקֹוָק בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא וַיֹּאמֶר אָנֹכִי אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ אַל תִּירָא כִּי אִתְּךָ אָנֹכִי וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ וְהִרְבֵּיתִי אֶת זַרְעֲךָ בַּעֲבוּר אַבְרָהָם עַבְדִּי:
(כה) וַיִּבֶן שָׁם מִזְבֵּחַ וַיִּקְרָא בְּשֵׁם יְקֹוָק וַיֶּט שָׁם אָהֳלוֹ וַיִּכְרוּ שָׁם עַבְדֵי יִצְחָק בְּאֵר
Genesis 26

(24) And God appeared to him that night and said, "I am the Lord of Avraham your father. Do not fear for I am with you and I will bless you and make your seed great for the sake of Avraham my servant." (25) And he built an altar there and he called in the name of God. And he pitched his tent there and the servants of Yitzchak dug a well there.

God wants to calm the fear that Yitzchak has here on account of his tenuous relationship with Avimelech. Remember that Yitzchak was quite willing to go to Egypt and God promised to take care of him without his leaving the land. Yet Yitzchak undergoes some hard times with Avimelech so God reassures him. In response, Yitzchak builds an altar and prays. 

It is possible that Yaakov stops in Beer Sheva because his situation also seems tenuous. There is, after all, a famine and he has now uprooted his entire family to move to Egypt. Perhaps he is hoping that God will appear to him in Beer Sheva and give him a message similar to the one he gave his father Yitzchak, namely that he should not leave the land and God would take care of him there in Canaan. Of course, Yaakov feels he must see Yosef but perhaps Yosef can come to him or perhaps he need not bring his entire family down to Egypt. Perhaps this is why he directed his sacrifices to the God of Yitzchak specifically, meaning that he wanted to appeal to the aspect of God which was revealed to Yitzchak in Beer Sheva. 

In fact, God also tells Yaakov not to fear but directs his course very differently that he did for his father. I think that Yaakov was all too aware at that point that by bringing down his entire family that this would be the beginning of the diaspora which was predicted to Avraham in the b'rit bein hab'tarim (Gen. 15:13). He knew that although they would ultimately leave that diaspora enriched, he also knew they would suffer greatly there. I believe this was the ultimate fear that Yaakov was experiencing. 

What God tells him now which he didn't explain to either Avraham or Yitzchak is that the promise to make the nation great, that is numerous, is going to take place in Egypt! I am not sure if this exactly assuages Yaakov's fear but it does explain something vital: In order for the promises made to his fathers to come about, he (Yaakov) must go to Egypt now. 

Tomorrow I will add a bit more about the bigger picture that Yaakov now sees.

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