Rabbi Harel Gordon
Former Rosh Kollel in New York
This week’s parsha linksthe ra’av (famine) which prevails in Eretz Yisrael during Yitzchak’s time to the ra’av which occurred in Avraham’s time:
“Aside from the first famine that had been in the days of Avraham.” (Breishit 26:1)
Moreover, in both cases, lush Egypt – “like the garden of Hashem, like the land of Egypt” (Breishit 13:10) – is perceived as a potential refuge from the famine. But this time, HaKadosh Baruch Hu stops Yitzchak en route, when he reaches G’rar:
Yet, the parallels continue. Once again, the navi presents his wife as his sister, and when the deception is eventually revealed, the king protests. Indeed, the resemblance between Avraham and Yitzchak’s sojourns abroad is striking.
Similarly, the story of Yitzchak digging the wells is a continuation of the digging which took place in Avraham’s time:
“And Yitzchak again dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Avraham his father, and the Philistines had stopped them up after Avraham’s death.” (Breishit 26:18)
Our parsha depicts Yitzchak as a son who is committed to continuing his father’s life’s work. Nevertheless, Yitzchak himself is different from his father, and he has a different way of confronting life.
Avraham has a vision which involves disseminating emunah (belief in Hashem). He builds mizbachot (altars) and calls out in Hashem’s Name. His path is dynamic and strewn with challenges and transformations. Examples include his journeys to Eretz Yisrael and Egypt as well as his arguments and agreements – with HaKadosh Baruch Hu in S’dom; with Lot (“Please separate from me” – Breishit 13:9); with the King of S’dom (“Neither from a thread to a shoe strap” – Breishit 14:23); and with Avimelech, the King of G’rar (“Swear to me” – Breishit 21:23).
In contrast, Yitzchak exemplifies permanence and steadfastness. The Gemara (BT Pesachim 88a) teaches us that Avraham calls the Beit HaMikdash “har” (“mountain”), but Yitzchak calls it “sadeh” (“field”). A mountain soars and is conspicuous, but a field is outstretched and ready for cultivation and planting. Yitzchak HaNe’ekad (literally, “the bound one” – a reference to the Akeidah) is an olah temimah (an unblemished offering) who cannot leave Eretz Yisrael. While Avraham moves around (“lech lecha”), Yitzchak is told to “dwell in this land”.
The difference between Avraham and Yitzchak is further manifest by their respective adversaries. Avraham confronts kings, angels, and leaders. However, Yitzchak is more concerned with the local populace:
“And the men of the place asked about his wife, and he said, ‘she is my sister’; because he was afraid… lest the men of the place kill me… And the Philistines envied him… The Philistines stopped them up… And the shepherds of G’rar quarreled with Yitzchak’s shepherds…” (Breishit 26:7-20)
Even Avimelech’s rebuke – “One of the people has nearly lain with your wife” (Breishit 26:10) – can also be interpreted as a reference to an ordinary citizen. (Note, however, that Rashi explains that this pasuk refers to the king.)
Yitzchak is identified with the midah (trait) of gevurah (fortitude) – in contrast to Avraham’s midah of chessed (loving kindness).Gevurah comprises determination, exertion, diligence, and hard work. Yitzchak brings Avraham’s vision to fruition with industriousness and through continuous effort:
“And Yitzchak sowed in that land, and he found in that year a hundredfold; and Hashem blessed him.” (Breishit 26:12)
As a result of Yitzchak’s dedication and despite the inherent difficulties and his initial failures – such as the first two wells he dug: Esek and Sitnah – he manages to establish his hold over Eretz Yisrael with the third well:
“And he named it Rechovot, and he said, ‘for now Hashem has granted us ample space, and we will be fruitful in the land.’” (Breishit 26:22)
May we be privileged to follow in Yitzchak’s path, and may we be blessed with his moral strength.