Our parasha this week contains all the stories told in the Torah about Yitzchak Avinu. The Torah tells us very little about Yitzchak, and in fact, all the events involving him appear in a single chapter (26). Immediately after this chapter, it is Yaakov who takes center-stage, and the Torah accompanies him from this point on (despite the fact that Yitzchak lives for many years after this point).
Interestingly enough, as we read the stories told about Yitzchak, it is hard not to associate these events – time and time again – with the stories told of his father, Avraham.
Already early on in the Torah’s narrative about Yitzchak (beginning of chapter 26), we read of a famine that strikes the landof Canaan, forcing Yitzchak to relocate in Gerar. In describing the famine, the pasuk emphasizes, “There was a famine in the land, in addition to the first famine, which occurred during Avraham’s time.” Why did the Torah mention this? Would we have thought that this current crisis was the same famine that took place during Avraham’s time? Yitzchak hadn’t even been born at the time when Avraham had to settle in Egypt, and, later, in Gerar. We must explain, therefore, that the Torah wished for us to recall in this context the previous famine suffered by Avraham, which forced him to move to Egypt. Moreover, the narrative, which is well aware of the close comparison that will emerge between the continuation of this story and the story of Avraham’s famine, finds it necessary to remind us that despite the similarities, these are two distinct famines that occurred at different times.
The two berachot with which Hashem blesses Yitzchak likewise reminds us of Avraham. Hashem first blesses Yitzchak just prior to his move to Gerar, and then again at the time of his final departure from Gerar. In both blessings, Avraham plays a prominent role. The first beracha is but an affirmation of the oath that Hashem declared to Avraham after akeidat Yitzchak, as He explicitly states to Yitzchak, “I will uphold the oath that I swore to your father Avraham.” Hashem here does not make any new promise to Yitzchak, and in fact it appears that Yitzchak earns this beracha only in Avraham’s merit, as Hashem concludes, “Because Avraham heeded My voice, and he kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My teachings” (26:6). The second beracha, too, is earned only in Avraham’s merit: “Hashem appeared to him that night and said: I am the God of your father Avraham. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bless you and make your offspring numerous, for the sake of My servant, Avraham” (26:24).
The continuation of the story of Yitzchak repeats almost precisely the stories of Avraham. Yitzchak fears that the people of Gerar would kill him so they could marry his wife, and thus poses as Rivka’s brother. Avraham had a very similar experience with this same king – Avimelech – and with Pharaoh. After the reconciliation between Yitzchak and Avimelech, they make a formal treaty – just as Avimelech had made with Avraham.
In between these two stories – of Yitzchak’s pose as Rivka’s brother, and the treaty with Avimelech – we read of yet another incident that associates father and son: the digging of wells. Here, the Torah explicitly emphasizes this connection between Avraham and Yitzchak: “Yitzchak dug anew the wells that were dug during the time of his father Avraham,” because “all the wells his father’s servants dug during the time of his father, Avraham – the Pelishtim stopped up.” Moreover, Yitzchak himself highlights this association through the names he gives to these wells: “and he gave them the same names that his father had given them.” And just as Avimelech’s servants stole Avraham’s wells (“Avraham reprimanded Avimelech over the well of water that Avimelech’s servants stole” – 21:25), so do the shepherds of Gerar claim ownership over Yitzchak’s wells.
This, in effect, summarizes all that the Torah tells us about Yitzchak. As we have seen, his experiences consistently parallel those of his father, and the narrative itself appears to emphasize this association.
What is the underlying meaning behind this extraordinary resemblance between father and son?
It seems that Yitzchak differs from Avraham with regard to one important point: he closes the circle begun by Avraham when he settled in Gerar. At that time, Avraham and Avimelech appeared to share the same stature. Both are depicted in the Chumash as men who follow Hashem’s teachings and ethics. All throughout, Avimelech speaks in a manner emphasizing his piety and the grave sin he almost committed – by sleeping with Sara – because of Avraham.
It is off this backdrop that we must read the story of Yitzchak’s residence in Gerar. This time, the circle is closed, and it becomes abundantly clear who stands on the moral high ground. For one thing, Rivka is never actually taken to Avimelech, and thus the moral injustice in this instance is far less severe than during Avraham’s stay in the city. And yet, this time Avimelech does not shower Yitzchak with gifts and offer him residence in the land (as he did ever so heart-warmingly during Avraham’s time). To the contrary, he acts more like Pharaoh, driving Yitzchak from the area: “Go away from us, for you have become far more powerful than us.” Avimelech’s servants, by contrast, continue their conduct of old, once again stealing the wells dug by Yitzchak’s servants.
If in the previous story, we had any doubts as to who is the moral victor – Avraham or Avimelech, at this point it becomes perfectly clear that it is Avraham’s successor – Yitzchak Avinu – who triumphs in this struggle over Avimelech and his servants, and he stands on the moral high ground.