By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
6 Tevet 5765 - December 17, 2004
Yaakov prepares for his descent to Egypt,
bidding a final farewell to the Land of Israel. Along the way he stops in Beer
And Yisrael journeyed with all that was his, and he came to Beer Sheva; and he
offered sacrifices to the G-d of his father Yitzchak (Bereishit 46:1).
The usual route to Egypt is the coastal road, “the way of the land of the
Philistines” (Shemot 13:17). When Yitzchak had intended to travel to Egypt, he
passed through Gerar (Bereishit 26:1). (Gerar is identified with either Tell
Yamma, Tell al-Shari’a or Tell Hurayra, all west of Beer Sheva.)
Beer Sheva, on the other hand, is a detour on the way to Egypt. Situated on the
southern border of the territory of Yehudah, Beer Sheva is on the edge of the
desert; it is more likely a stop on the way to Chorev (see Melachim I 19:3, 8)
than to Egypt.
This, explains Maharzu (R. Zeev Wolf Einhorn), is the meaning of the question in
the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 94:4):
“Where did he go?”
Why does Yaakov take the indirect route to Egypt via Beer Sheva?
We first encounter Beer Sheva (the well of oath) as the location of a well dug
by Avraham when he entered into a non-aggression treaty there with Avimelech,
who acknowledged Avraham’s water rights (Bereishit 21:25-32). Later, this was
one of the wells that the Philistines stopped up; it was rediscovered and
renamed by Yitzchak (26:25, 32-33; see Ramban). Yaakov too left from his home in
Beer Sheva before going to live with Lavan (Bereishit 28:10).
Beer Sheva also has spiritual significance for the Patriarchs. After the
destruction of Sodom, Avraham sought another place to do acts of chesed (Bereishit
Rabba 52a), and he came to Beer Sheva:
And he planted an eshel in Beer Sheva and there he called upon the Name of
Hashem, G-d of the world (21:33).
Yitzchak moved ever farther from Gerar:
And he ascended from there to Beer Sheva. And Hashem appeared to him that night
and He said, “I am the G-d of Avraham your father. Do not fear, for I am with
you. I will bless you and increase your seed because of Avraham My servant.” And
he built there an altar and called upon the Name of Hashem (26:23-25).
Yitzchak had been told not to venture out of the Land of Israel (26:2).
Therefore, says Sforno (R. Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550), as Yaakov
now prepares to do what his father was forbidden, he hesitates;
and he offered sacrifices to the G-d of his father Yitzchak (46:1)
to obtain Hashem’s assurance, which he receives (46: 2-4).
Rashbam says Yaakov now offers sacrifices in Beer Sheva because Yitzchak had
built an altar and offered sacrifices there (26:25). Ramban observes that Beer
Sheva was a place of prayer for the Patriarchs. Yaakov himself had received
Hashem’s permission to leave from there for Charan.
The Midrash cited above (Bereishit Rabba 94:4) answers:
“Said R. Nachman, ‘He went to cut down cedars that his ancestor Avraham planted
in Beer Sheva, as is said, And he planted an eshel, etc.’”
Yaakov takes Avraham’s trees to Egypt, and these will provide the shittim wood
for building the Mishkan.
Emet LeYaakov (R. Yaakov Kamenetsky,1896-1981) here and on 26:23-25 elaborates
on Sforno, Rashbam and Ramban: When Avraham planted trees there, Beer Sheva
became sanctified as
“a source of consolation for the Patriarchs that in the future they would leave
the exile and build the Mishkan.”
Therefore after he was exiled by Avimelech,
Yitzchak went to Beer Sheva and built an altar there. He took comfort in
Hashem’s promise that his exile would not last.
This is Yaakov’s intention now:
“Likewise Yaakov before entering the exile went to Beer Sheva in order to draw
consolation that the children of Israel would indeed leave Egypt. Therefore he
offered sacrifices to the G-d of his father Yitzchak.”
Yaakov fears lest his descendants become so
immersed in Egyptian values that they would not want to leave (as in fact nearly
“Because of this fear Yaakov wanted to make a real connection between his
offspring that are descending to Egypt and the land of Israel. Therefore he
insisted that these trees always be with them. The idea was passed from
generation to generation as the tradition of our patriarch Yaakov: ‘Do you not
see that the time of redemption will certainly come? For here are the trees that
our ancestor Yaakov brought from the Land of Israel, and they are the very ones
that our ancestor Avraham our patriarch planted in Beer Sheva, and they stand
ready for us to build the Mishkan with them when we leave Egypt. Therefore it is
certain that we will leave here soon!’ By means of these trees they encouraged
one another until the time of the redemption actually arrived.”
This is similar to Megillah 31b, where Avraham asks Hashem, what shall his
children do if they sin so as to prevent them from being lost? Hashem answers
that the offering of sacrifices will atone for them. Avraham exclaims:
“That is well during the time when the Temple is standing; but when the Temple
is not standing, what will become of them?”
He said to him, “I have already established the order of sacrifices for them.
Whenever they read them I consider it for them as if they were offering a
sacrifice before Me, and I forgive them for all their sins.”
R. Kamenetsky explains Avraham’s concern:
“As long as the Temple stands and the Divine Presence is in its glory and Israel
are on their land, I am certain that they will not be lost, because they are
connected with an everlasting bond to their land and their people. However, when
the Temple is not standing and they are in exile, dispersed and disjoined among
all the nations, what will become of them? How will they preserve the connection
to their source and the hope for redemption?”
Hashem’s answer is that as long as they learn about the sacrifices they will
remain connected to the belief in the coming of Mashiach.
As our Patriarchs taught us, the way to redemption is our desire to be redeemed.
Based on Parashat Vayigash, one might conclude that there are two Yaakov
Avinu’s. The first Yaakov, when given the chance to see his long-lost son
in Egypt, goes off with great enthusiasm and zeal (Bereishit 45:28). The
second Yaakov, while on the way to see Yosef, stops in Be’er Sheva, and
only continues on his journey after God says to him: “Do not be afraid to
go down to Egypt (Bereishit 46:3).”
The reality is that there is only one Yaakov, whose enthusiasm about going
to Egypt changes from high to hesitant.
Why so? Yaakov’s hesitation begins in Be’er Sheva. There, many years
earlier, Yaakov’s parents had ordered him to leave the country for two
important reasons – to save his life and to find a wife. Now Yaakov once
again wants to leave the country, but this time for the purely personal
desire to see his lost son. Is this trip justified? Ya’akov suspends his
journey until he receives confirmation that God approves of his actions.
There are two types of Jews who do not yet live in the land of Israel.
Some, like the youthful Yaakov, have issues that clearly justify their
living outside of the land. Others, like Yaakov in his old age, live in
the Diaspora because of a personal preference. Yaakov teaches us to
distinguish between the two reasons, and, in the latter case, to engage in
self-reflection in order to determine whether the personal gain truly
justifies the spiritual loss of not living in the land promised by God to
Rabbi Avraham Norin
Golan Heights/Shelichut in Philadelphia
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North
American Rabbis and laymen who successfully made Aliyah, aimed at
highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting Aliyah. They send
emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on speaking-tours
throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness ,
Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254