Sharing Torah Insights


Posted on ל׳ במרחשון ה׳תשע״א (November 7, 2010) | in Toldot | by

I’m going to do something out-of-the-box here.  I know it’s Parashat Toldot, and we want to know as much as we can about Yaakov and Esav, about the birthright, the brachot, deception, drama, and revenge.  But I want to know about what goes on in the middle part.  Yitzhak’s whole life story happens in chapter 26.  What were some of his defining moments?

A brief outline of the chapter yields the following: there is a famine in the Land, so Yitzhak goes to Avimelekh.  He passes Rivka off as his sister, until Avimelekh discovers otherwise and summarily dismisses him.  He leaves and begins farming and is outstandingly successful.  The Plishtim become jealous and send him away, so he leaves and settles in the wadi of Gerar.  He unearths the wells his father had dug which the Plishtim covered up after Avraham’s death.  He digs a couple new wells and the locals begin contending with him.  Then, Avimelekh swings around and asks Yitzhak nicely if he wouldn’t mind striking an oath for protection.  (Please feel free to read it yourself to avoid having my voice and assumptions superimposed on the storyline =]  )

Many of these themes are parallel to the major events in Avraham’s lifetime, and the text even points us to that conclusion.  The famine is described as different “from the previous famine which occurred in the day’s of Avraham,” (26:1) and Yitzhak’s two brachot are in merit of Avraham (26:5 and 26:24).  Let’s take a look at one of these parallels and see what’s boiling beneath the surface.

Isaac dug anew the wells that were dug in the days of his father Avraham, and which the Plishtim had stopped up after Avraham’s death; and he gave them the same names that his father had given them. (26:18)

Wells are very important, especially for people who live in the arid Negev.  So why would the Plishtim stop them up?  Water is a life-or-death issue in the desert!  And why did the Torah take the time to tell us about their names?

I ran into a commentator this week that I’ve never used before.  HaKtav ve’HaKaballah by Yaakov Tzvi מקלנבורג (whose last name I can’t properly vowelize) explains as follows.  Wells are, in fact, a life-or-death matter in the South, and the fact that Avraham dug so many is indicative of his great hesed.  But Avraham had other agendas as well.  He didn’t give his wells average names.  When he named them things, they sounded like “Hashem Yire,” (of Akeida fame).  He named things that spoke of God’s greatness.  Then, when people went to go take a drink, they’d same “I’m off to Well of God’s Greatness!”  And slowly but surely, God became part of the lexicon.  In fact, we see that the locals called Avraham “Nasi Elohim” at the beginning of last week’s parashah!  With the simple hesed of digging a well, Avraham incorporated godliness in to everyday life wherever he went. The Plishtim wouldn’t have this, and as soon as Avraham died, they ran and covered up these wells.  No more talking about God, even at the expense of water.  So Yitzhak came back and undug the wells, and he renamed them the same names and reintroduced God into the lexicon.  We see right there in the psukim how mad the shephards were, but Yitzhak kept trekking on.1

Just like we saw a couple parashot ago, Avraham got into a community and didn’t merely preach, he transformed it.  And now we see that he he did that right the very foundations with the local water source.  But sometimes, without help, the structures we build in hostile lands cannot outlive us.

And Yitzhak?  He did not idly repeat his father’s legacy: he renewed it, and even pushed it forward.  Yitzhak plants up a storm in verse 12 (something we never saw Avraham doing) and the Midrash there explains to us that, “the righteous are involved in yishuv ha’olam, settling the world.”  Yaakov built in his own way, sometimes reliving his father’s life, and sometimes building on it and pushing forward.

[cross-posted on divreidavid]

BONUS – Question for your guys: verse 34, in light of the above, what’s the significance that Esav marries a woman who’s father’s name is “my well,” especially in light of the fact that Yitzhak and Rivka do not seem very happy with Esav’s choice?

  1. You can find your own copy of HaKtav ve’HaKaballah right here 

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