Not much distinguishes Isaac as one of the three great patriarchs of our people. Though we recite his name every time we pray the Amidah, there isn’t anything particularly dramatic about his life story.
Abraham is a pioneer, the one to promote a revolutionary idea to the world. His faith is complex and challenging. His family relationships are equally so.
Jacob lives a turbulent life on his own terms. He knows he will inherit the weighty mantle of leadership, but we are not sure he possesses the moral certainty carry on his family’s tradition. He is a person of questionable character who inspires scrutiny and admiration for his behavior toward others.
But the most that can be said of Isaac is that he is the necessary link between the generations. He is a passive figure, bound to the altar by his father in the role of victim, not trailblazer.
True, there are times to be a trailblazer and there are times to maintain the status quo. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in his book Biblical Images writes that, “It is known that the sons of great fathers, talented and significant as they may be in their own right, have to contend with the parental glory and from the beginning feel themselves as inadequate, burdened with a lesser or with greater degrees of helplessness.” Frankly, who remembers the child of a revolutionary? The point Rabbi Steinsaltz makes is that the generation to follow a revolutionary often must quietly maintain what was achieved.
On the surface, Isaac’s story is not unique and inspiring. But the rabbinic sages credit him with one achievement in particular—he remained in the Land of Israel. In chapter 26 of Genesis, we read that God tells him to stay in the land and that he will prosper by staying.
One might think that never leaving one’s homeland is hardly an impressive accomplishment. But the sages credit Isaac with reinforcing the idea that a Jew must be closely connected to the Land of Israel not only spiritually but also physically. For them, the land was a crucial aspect of Jewish identity. They viewed the land as not an abstract promise made to Abraham but the place in which communal and cultural identity was formed and strengthened. Simply put, they affirmed that Jews are not only a religion but also a nation. We have in common not only values, folkways, history and customs, but also a shared connection to a certain place.
What was true for the Talmudic sages should be true for us. Jews are not only members of a religion, but also a nation. Our connection to the Land of Israel has been maintained from all the generations from Abraham to our day. Our religious identity is expressed not only in prayer, study, holiday celebration and cultural experience. It ought to be expressed through connection to the Land of Israel as well.
In that spirit, I share with you two opportunities to visit Israel with me.
- The first opportunity is Oheb Shalom Congregation’s Family Israel Adventure, a 10-day tour from August 19-29, 2018. These dates come after summer camp sessions have ended. Together, we will travel to places in Israel both historic and modern, seeing for ourselves how this remarkable and beautiful nation has grown over 70 years of statehood. Each day will be packed with experiences and memorable moments that we will share together. Oheb Shalom members and their extended family members are welcome to join. The itinerary and registration form for Oheb Shalom’s Family Israel Adventure are both online.
- The second opportunity is a Community Mission sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey. From October 14-22, 2018, hundreds of people from our community will travel together to Israel for a remarkable and memorable visit. The cost is $1,999 (land only) for the first 400 registrants, and $3,499 (land only) for subsequent registrants. I plan to be there, and we are hoping for a substantial representation from Oheb Shalom on this mission!
Isaac did not capture the headlines that his father or son did. But he is known by our tradition for his close connection to the Land of Israel. Let’s emulate his example.