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. Chapter 37 starts one of the Bible’s most disturbing – and protracted – scandals: the sale
of Joseph by his brothers. The sibling’s recrimination, antagonism, conflict, and resolution accompany
readers to the end of the book of Genesis. But first we read of Jacob's retirement from physical labor.
“And Jacob settled in the land where his father had sojourned, in the
land of Canaan.”
Abravanel sets the scene of the selling of Joseph by first focusing on Jacob. “And Jacob settled in the
land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan.” He asks: What information does the verse
convey? We read in an earlier chapter: “And Jacob came unto Isaac his father to Mamre, to Kiriatharba,
the same is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned.” Since the Bible does not mention that Jacob
left or traveled from Hebron, we may safely assume that Jacob settled there.
Abravanel follows up with a second question. “And Jacob settled in the land where his father sojourned”
does not need to spell out the obvious: “In the land of Canaan.” Bible students are fully aware that Isaac
never left Canaan.
According to Abravanel, there are two approaches to this chapter’s lead verses. They provide
remarkable insights into Jacob’s mindset as he settled back home, in Canaan. This blog covers one of the
approaches. See Abravanel’s World for the full treatment.
Abravanel begins by characterizing Jacob during the Paddan-Aram years, when he worked for Laban. An
ambitious go-getter, the patriarch doggedly pursued wealth and material acquisitions – day and night.
From the moment Jacob returned to Isaac in Hebron, his priorities changed. Isaac’s home was wholly
dedicated to spirituality and service to the Maker. Religious opportunity converged from two angles.
One, the first patriarch Abraham set the right tone by establishing Hebron as a place well-suited for
spiritual growth. Jacob’s father, Isaac, for his part, redoubled efforts in maintaining Hebron’s holy aura.
Two, the land of Canaan is wired to inspire man to reach his full potential. God’s chosen land is a fount of divine revelation.
No sooner had Jacob come home than he realigned his goals, himself. Acquiring money and increasing
assets no longer interested him. Instead, Jacob sought solitude, and divine wisdom. He longed to follow
in Abraham’s and Isaac’s footsteps.
But, if Jacob retired, who would pick up the slack and oversee the vast flocks and family empire? The
patriarch eyed his sons, all strapping young men. “And Jacob settled…” He had enough of the nomadic
life, always on the move and lookout for pastures. Now, it was his sons’ turn to keep the business going.
In sum, Jacob’s transition from entrepreneur to noble patriarch occurred when he reached Hebron.
Learning timeless values from Abraham and Isaac, along with the proper ambience and location
afforded by Canaan carried Jacob to ever higher religious awareness. Indeed, Jacob’s spiritual labor
benefited from Hebron’s strong tailwinds, a sacred haunt.