November 25, 2023 | 12 Kislev 5784
Torah: Genesis 28:10-32:3 Triennial: Genesis 30:14-31:16
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13-14:10
Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn:
Even after all the promises, even after all of his success, even after a lifetime in a place, Abraham is still a Jew of the diaspora. He heeded God’s call. He got up, he went, he left his land, his birthplace, the house of his father, to go to the land that God would show him. He made a life for himself there, built altars, got rich, had sons. But at the end of the day, as an old man considering his legacy, Abraham reveals that his heart has never left the land of his youth.
When instructing his servant to find a wife for his son, Abraham sends him back to the old country. His language echoes the language with which God had called him. He says, “Go to my land and to my birthplace,” explaining that God had taken him “from the house of my father, the land of my birth.” There is tremendous pain revealed in Abraham’s words. His story is bookended by leaving his birthplace and longing to go back to it. God has promised him this new home, this new land. Abraham has buried his beloved wife in this land. And yet, for him, his home will always be his place of his birth.
His grandson, Jacob, will experience something similar. But for him, Israel is home. In our parashah, we read another echo of God’s call to Abraham. We read God’s words to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your birthplace and I will be with you.” He repeats it again, saying, “Get up and go from this land and return to the land of your birthplace.” Jacob will go so far as to repeat it back to God, to hold God to his word. This language is powerful, showing a complete switch. Jacob is in Padan Aram, in the land of Abraham’s birth, with Abraham’s family, when he is told to return home. Home for Jacob, the land of his fathers, his birthplace, is Israel. It is only fitting that he will be given the name Israel, becoming the first native of our land. He can return home to the land which his parents and grandparents made for him.
This is the man who will be so reluctant to let his children leave the land, to go down to Egypt. This is the man who will reclaim his grandsons, Ephraim and Mannaseh, born in Egypt, as his own, making their birthplace and home symbolically Israel rather than Egypt. This is the man who will insist that he be buried at home, that he be brought back to Israel. This is the man who teaches his son to do the same, to have his bones brought back with the Exodus from Egypt, the return home.
It is from this tradition that for all of us, our birthplace, our home, is Israel. We read twice in Megillat Esther of Esther’s care not to reveal who her nation is and what her birthplace is. Esther was not literally born in Israel, in Canaan. She was born in exile. But starting with Jacob, our homeland, the land of our ancestors, our birthplace is Israel. It is the home to which we return.