“Now therefore, my son, hearken to my voice and arise. Flee to Laban
my brother, to Haran.”
Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
offering enduring interpretations of the Bible.
Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. In Genesis chapter 28, Jacob is urged to leave home. The precise destination is less clear.
Jacob’s mother Rebekah instructs him to travel to her brother Laban: “Flee to Laban my brother, to
Haran.” Jacob’s father Isaac had something else in mind: “And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him…and
said unto him: Arise, go to Paddan-Aram to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father.”
Abravanel makes sense of the seeming ambiguity surrounding Jacob’s destination. Along the way, he’ll
do more than provide Bible students with an address. Abravanel will also fill in some nagging blanks
about Isaac and Rebekah.
In the aftermath of the high drama associated with Isaac’s blessing, things got messy. Rebekah
overheard Esau’s desire to murder Jacob. According to Abravanel, Rebekah never did tell Isaac that she
masterminded the efforts to secure the patriarch’s blessing for Jacob. Had she done so, Isaac would
have pinned the ensuing family dissension on her. But it seems like the aged patriarch remained
blissfully unaware of the boiling hatred and contempt Esau held for his younger brother.
Instead, Rebekah told Isaac a white lie, let us call it. “And Rebekah said to Isaac: I am weary of life
because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth….what good shall my
life do me?” Stressing marriageable material, she urged Isaac to send Jacob away to Laban, in order to
find a suitable wife.
But actually, Rebekah had something else in mind. She believed that Laban, her young and burly
brother, would protect Jacob, should Esau show up looking for a fight. Isaac, as written above, was
unaware of the intrigue, as well as the hostilities the intrigue stirred. Isaac took Rebekah’s words at
face value. That is, Jacob needed to leave home posthaste in order to find a wife.
Isaac directs Jacob differently than Rebekah. “And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged
him, and said unto him…Arise. Go to Paddan-Aram to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father.”
Abravanel learns that there is more to our story than different addresses. For Isaac, Jacob’s destination
should be Rebekah’s father, not brother. Why? Since the patriarch assumed the goal centered on
locating a good match, Bethuel would be the better contact. As an older and more mature man than
Laban, his judgment would be sounder, and thus be more helpful for the task at hand: matrimony.