(photo credit: ROOM404.NET)
In the previous Torah portions, we have come to know the characters of our first father, Abraham, and first mother, Sarah. In this week’s portion, we get to know the second father and mother – Isaac and Rebekah.
Among the three forefathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – Isaac stands out because of his special connection with the Land of Israel. This connection is expressed, first of all, in the fact that from his birth through to the day of his death, he never left the borders of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. This is as opposed to Abraham, who was not born in the Land of Israel, and Jacob, who died in Egypt. In addition, Isaac dealt intensively with settling the land. Indeed, we read about his efforts to establish his settlement in the land and his dealings with the Philistines, who were its earlier inhabitants.
Initially we read about his success and financial prosperity: “And Isaac sowed in that land, and he found in that year a hundred fold, and the Lord blessed him. And the man became great, and he grew constantly greater until he had grown very great. And he had possessions of sheep and possessions of cattle and much production...” (Genesis 26:12-14)
Then we discover that Isaac’s neighbors are not pleased about his success: “... and the Philistines envied him. And all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father the Philistines stopped them up and filled them with earth. And Abimelech said to Isaac, ‘Go away from us, for you have become much stronger than we.’ And Isaac went away from there... And Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and they found there a well of living waters. And the shepherds of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s shepherds, saying, ‘The water is ours’... And they dug another well, and they quarreled about it also.” (Genesis 26:14-21)
And finally, we read about a surprising turn of events: “And he went up from there to Beersheba... and Abimelech went to him from Gerar and a group of his companions... And Isaac said to them, ‘Why have you come to me, since you hate me, and you sent me away from you?’ And they said, ‘We have seen that the Lord was with you... and let us form a covenant with you.’” (Genesis 26:23-28)
What can we learn from Isaac’s behavior and from the direction in which the complicated relationship between Isaac and the Philistines is headed? The first point which stands out in Isaac’s story is his lack of despair. Isaac does not despair even when he is expelled time and time again. Wherever he goes, he tries to establish his hold on the land by digging wells. Even when his wells are filled with earth and others try to steal his natural resources, it does not affect the great spirit that motivates him to move on. His reaction to his neighbors’ scheming is clear and strong: he digs a new well. Though he does not take revenge, and it might even seem that he is giving in and withdrawing, in reality he rebuilds. He knows where it is best to invest his energies in order to prevail.
Another point that stands out in Isaac’s story is the development of the Philistines’ relationship with him.
Isaac annoys them. Jealousy turns to hatred and they expel him from the boundaries of the city. When Isaac continues to succeed and prosper, their jealousy overwhelms them and they steal the wells that he discovered and exposed. But when the Philistines come to see that Isaac’s success is a fact on the ground and that he is succeeding in establishing himself despite them, they come to him with a respectable delegation and try to ingratiate themselves with flattery. They rewrite history and present themselves as peace-seekers while asking him to make a covenant with them that will assure their welfare.
Things that were true 3,700 years ago are still true today. The way to deal with enemies is by building, holding on to the land and developing it. We inherited from Isaac the hope and faith that push aside despair and overcome it, pushing us to continue building, growing and flourishing.
And another thing that we learn is that when the People of Israel’s success and prosperity are undeniable, when the nations of the world see that God protects His people and takes care of them, we will not have to chase after peace with our neighbors because they themselves, the enemies of yesterday, will come and ask us to make a covenant of peace with them.
May we be privileged to have true peace, speedily in our days. Amen.The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.