Parshat Toldot – Email Shiur – Rav Milston
“And the man became great and kept becoming greater until he was very great” (Bereishit, Chapter 26 Verse 13)
The above verse describes Yitzchak Avinu as being a “great man”, yet seemingly fails to explain exactly as to what the greatness of Yitzchak was. The verses immediately preceding this verse dealt with the incident regarding Abimelech Rivka and Yitzchak, an incident similar to that experienced by his parents both in Mitzrayim and in Gerar.
We must therefore assume that the greatness of Yitzchak is going to be explained in the subsequent verses. That is to say, that verse 13 is the introduction to the verses that follow. They will presumably explain the greatness of Yitzchak:
“He had acquired flocks and herds and many enterprises; and the Philistines envied him. All the wells that his father’s servants had dug, the Philistines stopped up, and filled them with earth. And Abimelech said to Yitzchak, ‘Go away from us for you have become mightier than us!’ So Yitzchak departed from there and encamped in the valley of Gerar, and dwelled there. And Yitzchak dug anew the wells of water, which they had dug in the days of Avraham his father, and the Philistines had stopped up after Avraham’s death; and he called them by the same names that his father had called them.
Yitzchak’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of fresh water. The herdsman of Gerar quarreled with Yitzchak’s herdsman saying, ‘The water is ours,’ so he called the name of that well ‘Esek’, because they involved themselves with him. Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that also; so he called its name ‘Sitnah’. He relocated from there and dug another well; they did not quarrel over it, so he called its name ‘Rehovot’, and said, ‘For now Hashem has granted us ample space, and we can be fruitful in the land.’”
(Bereishit, Chapter 26 Verses 14 – 22)
This parasha is perplexing to say the least. The one event that is detailed in the entire Torah, specifically regarding Yitzchak, is a seemingly unimportant sequence of conflicts regarding the digging of wells. Even though one could argue that Yitzchak was a central figure in the Akeidah, that event was introduced with the words:” And Hashem tested Avraham”, the emphasis clearly on the father as opposed to the son.
Furthermore, if the parasha is apparently describing the greatness of Yitzchak, we must therefore assume that we should understand from the events described in it what that greatness is. Yet we are told of a dispute that seems of no real consequence whatsoever.
If we look at the events of the wells in depth, we will actually learn who Yitzchak really was. We will see an unparalleled greatness.
We must firstly ask ourselves as to why ‘wells’ are of such crucial importance?
As we all know only too well, we cannot exist even for a minimal period of time without water. We can therefore assume that the digging of a well would be one of the first acts required when establishing a new town. Before anything else could be done there would need to be a healthy supply of fresh water. By understanding this we can see that Yitzchak was involved in something much more crucial than a simple business dispute.
His father, Avraham Avinu, had spread the idea of monotheism. He had established colonies. He was accepted as a “Prince” wherever he went in Eretz Yisrael. It is fair to assume that the “colonies” set up by Avraham were strongholds reflecting the very same beliefs that he had established throughout the land. When the opposing herdsman filled in the wells, they were not simply disputing ownership of a particular area. They were aiming to destroy the colonies, with an ultimate aim to destroy the idea. The most effective way to realize their objective was by cutting off the water supply, inevitably forcing the people to close down the colony and move elsewhere.
Yitzchak would not relent. He would not stand by and watch the breakthrough achieved by his father, disappear in front of his very eyes. Hashem commanded Yitzchak to remain in Eretz Yisrael, in fact we know that Yitzchak never left Eretz Yisrael. This was not by coincidence. Yitzchak was the defender of the Abrahamic idea. His role was to consolidate the concept on Ahavat Hashem and Yiraat Hashem. He had to insure that this new ideology would not disappear after just one generation. There were those who wished to stop him, in fact he did not at first succeed. He fought, until he finally reached ‘Rehovot’. In order to reach the stage of Yaakov, and the establishment of twelve tribes, it was essential to firstly consolidate the idea innovated by his father.
Yitzchak was not the founder of Judaism, nor was he the father of the tribes. Indeed his role was the hardest of them all, it needed absolute humility. Yitzchak dedicated his entire life to the dream – without consolidation, the messages of Avraham Avinu would have been a temporary infusion of spirituality in a world slowly but surely in decline.
Whenever I discuss the role of Yitzchak, I am reminded of a discussion that took place on Kibbutz Maale Gilboa over eleven years ago. In fact it seems apt, that in the week in which I celebrate my twelfth anniversary of Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, that I recall this conversation.
As many of my students know, I initially made aliyah to Kibbutz Maale Gilboa. The original plan was for me to attain semichah and possibly return to the Kibbutz in the role of Rav. I spent eight months on the Kibbutz before returning to Yeshiva, I worked in a variety of places on the Kibbutz, enjoyed the company of wonderful people, yet I felt in some way unfulfilled.
During Seuda Shlishit on a particular Shabbat, I was asked by my hosts, whether my experiences on Kibbutz had been what I had expected them to be. I answered that I was actually somewhat disillusioned. I had expected to come and ‘build the land’, I had thought that I would be making something from nothing, yet when I arrived I found that the Kibbutz was built, and well established. It was then that my host admonished me saying; ‘what would be the purpose of building something if there was no one to continue afterwards?” He explained the obvious to me. “You did not make something from nothing, but your being here insures that that something will be continued – that all our efforts were worthwhile” –“ Who will go up to the mountain of Hashem, and who will stay there?”
There is a certain satisfaction when one creates something from nothing. There is a certain feeling of achievement. This feeling is not so obvious when you are consolidating something created by others, yet it is equally, if not more, important – this is the trait of Yitzchak.
This is the greatness of Yitzchak. His entire life is dedicated to the dream of his father, he will always be Yitzchak Ben Avraham, he does not seek his own fame, he is disinterested in making his own mark in the world, he is dedicated towards insuring that the wells that his father dug remain, he is selfless in all that he does. Yitzchak is determined that the world should know that “Avraham holid et Yitzchak”. He overcomes any egotistical tendencies in order to consolidate an idea that will change the world. A man of true belief, who is solely interested in the success of the idea, and in no way interested in himself.
It is only now, in retrospect, when we look at the sefer of Bereishit in its entirety, that we understand the true importance of Yitzchak.
Yet by looking at this parasha we learn another important lesson. HaRav Kook discusses this lesson in his beautiful essay – “Lehosif Ometz”:
When digging for water much effort is required. At first one digs to no avail, much effort is used yet there are no results. At this stage many will despair, they will put down their spades and move on to other things.
Yet there will be those who will continue, there will be those who have trust in their teachers who taught them that if they keep digging they would eventually reach water. Indeed, in time, a trickle of water can be seen at the bottom of the well. However, under close inspection this water is dirty sandy water. This is not the fresh clean natural water that was promised. Once again, there will be diggers who despair. The result was not worth the effort. They will put down their spades and leave.
Yet there will be those who do not despair at the site of dirty water. On the contrary, they see it as a sign that they are nearing their objective. Especially now, they will double their efforts. They realize that they are so near to their goal. In time they will truly reap the benefits of their work.
This most beautiful idea can be understood on both an individual level, and on a national level.
As individuals, we often set for ourselves goals. Our ability to achieve those goals depends ultimately on our belief, and on our stamina. There will be times when we feel like giving up. There will be times when the results are not nearly in proportion to the efforts. Yet we must have the strength and the commitment to keep digging until we reach fresh water.
As a nation, historically we know, that for many years, we had a dream of returning home. Many tried, but were unable to succeed. However, after centuries of exile, we had the merit to return to our homeland. In truth, our homeland is not in its idyllic state as of yet. The water is indeed sandy, maybe even dirty – but it is water nevertheless. We have returned, and in a relatively short period of time, we have succeeded, with much siyata dishmaya, in establishing an independent state, with an army and a government. Indeed, we are not yet at the end of our well. We do not have our Bet Mikdash, we do not have our Sanhedrin. However, we should not despair from the sandy water, on the contrary, we must be encouraged by it, because it will inevitably be followed by fresh water. We must double our efforts to insure that the unique situation that we have merited after two thousand years of exile, becomes the beginning of our final redemption.