Vort from the Rav: Toldos

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Genesis 26:18

וַיָּשָׁב יִצְחָק וַיַּחְפֹּר | אֶת בְּאֵרֹת הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר חָפְרוּ בִּימֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיו
And Isaac again dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of his father, Abraham,

Isaac’s birth was connected with laughter. “And Sarah said: ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone that hears will laugh on account of me.’” (v. 21:6) Rashi and Onkelos render the word not as laughter, but as joy. Other commentators, among them Yonasan ben Uziel, translate the word “laughter” literally. People laughed at the event. They did not believe that Isaac would inherit Abraham—that he, a young lad of the new generation, would continue to carry out Abraham’s visions and laws, and that he would engage in building altars and calling on the name of God. When Abraham dies, people said, his entire philosophy will perish, his altars will be dismantled. They did not hate Isaac; they simply belittled him. They laughed, they derided, but they did not hate.

Years passed. Those who were wont to laugh at Isaac and the hopes that Abraham pinned on him suddenly began to ask: Is Isaac really sincere in his efforts to resuscitate Abraham’s work? What is going on? They rubbed their eyes. Isaac was indeed continuing with Abraham’s enterprises. He was fighting for the same ideals, doing the same things his father had done!

The laughter ceased. They stopped making jokes on Isaac’s account and began to fight against him. In place of derision came jealousy and hatred. The “scoffers of the time,” who were wont to bandy jokes, stories and slanders about Abraham and Sarah, suddenly became the “wicked of the time” who thought to crush Isaac. Now they recognized his existence; now they felt hatred and jealousy.

Jealousy, as usual, leads to oppression and persecution, but also brings about respect. They began to hate Isaac, but they also began to respect him. In this attitude towards Isaac we may discern the first victory of Abraham’s house. It is better to be an object of jealousy and hatred, which lead to respect, than an object of pity, which is always accompanied by derision and contempt.

Twice the Philistines fought with Isaac over his wells, and only the third time did he dig without contention. This event is symbolic of the cynicism surrounding Abraham’s teachings and ideas. The “filling of the wells” represents the Philistine’s mistaken assumption that with Abraham’s death, his work was at an end; Isaac would pay no attention to wells dug by his father, to the spiritual approach he preached and practiced. But Isaac continued digging his father’s wells. He committed himself to ensuring that his father’s legacy would continue, rather than collect dust in the annals of history.(The Rav Speaks, pp. 108-110)

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

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