Isaac the meek (Genesis 25:19-28:9)
The hero of this week’s portion is Isaac. Isaac is a very interesting figure. In contrast to the rather dramatic life of his father Abraham and his son Jacob his life is calm and pleasant. In the Jewish tradition he is considered a “pure sacrifice” who was fully prepared to die for God on the altar, who married only one woman – Rebecca – and who never left the land of Canaan, unlike his father and son. He was more connected to the land than they were and worked not only as a shepherd but as a farmer too. In addition, in most places in the Bible he is mentioned in one breath with his father and son. There is something rather passive about him, his greatness is that he is the seed of Abraham and the father of Jacob, a link in the chain of generations and faith. The special connection of Isaac to God and his pure faith is connected to the teachings of Jesus in the Galilee, so this week I will take you on a visit to this incredible destination.
The Galilee has always been an important crossing point between Egypt and Canaan to Syria and Mesopotamia; a number of roads cross the Jordan River north of the Sea of Galilee including one which passes near Capernaum. The Galilee is a very mountainous region and since ancient times there has been an interesting division of the area: the fertile valleys of the Galilee were controlled by the empires and their allies, mostly non-Jews, while on the mountains themselves, which rocky areas and are more difficult to live in, settled the Jews and later the Druze, who are a unique religious minority living in the Galilee and the Golan Heights.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, fled to Egypt from the murderous King Herod and then returned with his family and lived in the central Galilee, in Nazareth. When he was about thirty years old, he began his mission and soon discovered that he had no place in the community of Nazareth and was forced to flee to Capernaum in the northwest corner of the sea of Galilee, where he taught and performed miracles for three years before reaching Jerusalem. Above Capernaum there is a mountain called Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered the sermon on the mount. A key phrase in it describes simple and righteous people like Isaac: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5).
Isaac’s work as a farmer which is exceptional among the patriarchs: “Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy.”(Genesis 26:12-13). Isaac became a successful farmer precisely during the famine in Canaan thanks to his faith and the blessing of God.
Anyone who comes to visit Capernaum will see next to it the rocks and how impossible it is for cultivation. The people there where fishermen and tax collectors for the Roman government. That will enable the visitor to understand the parable of the sower:
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:3-8)
and understand it’s meaning:
“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom (of heaven) and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 3:18-23)
It is no coincidence that Jesus uses the expression “Mea She’arim” – “a hundred times” as it appears in Isaac’s story. Let us learn from our father Isaac, humility and simplicity, just as Jesus also guides and thus inherits the earth.
Itamar Ben David is a professional tour guide and educator. He is one of the most popular Travelujah guides providing valuable biblical, historical and modern day insight on the land of Israel to Jewish and Christian groups and exclusive private tours. He has guided famous media personalities such as Larry King, congressmen and other VIP clients. He and his wife live in Jerusalem.