Saturday, November 10, 2007

Digging for Fun?

[Yitzchak] continued to prosper until he became extremely wealthy. He had flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, and a large retinue of slaves.
The Philistines became jealous of him. They plugged up all the wells that his father's servants had dug while Avraham was still alive and they filled them with earth.
Avimelech said to Yitzchak, "Go away from us. You have become much more powerful than we are."
Yitzchak moved away from there, camped in the Gerrar Valley and settled there. Yitzchak returned [to Gerar] and redug the wells that had been dug in the days of Avraham, which had been plugged up by the Philistines after Avraham's death. He gave them the same names that his father had given them.

Bereishit 26:13-18

Can anyone please tell me why Yitzchak, after he was evicted, snuck back into Gerar to redig wells for his enemies to enjoy?


  1. It's amazing how much echoing of the narrative occurs between Abraham & Isaac.

    Just as with Abraham, it seems that this need for Isaac to move away from the Philistine settlement is more of a 'growing pains' than a deep hatred. As we see later in the Parasha, they make peace when the Philistines realize the holiness of Isaac & the error of their ways.

    Bearing that in mind, it's not surprising that the Philistines didn't react when they saw Isaac digging out Abraham's wells. There's no discussion of the Philistines dispossessing Isaac of his tremendous wealth. Therefore, if the wells are his property, it makes sense that they would allow him access to it.

  2. I think one clue is a redundancy in the text. It would have been enough to say that the Philistines stopped up the wells—why then does the text tell us that they also filled it with earth? Also, there is a more fundamental problem—water is a precious commodity in the desert—why didn’t the Philistines simply appropriate the wells for themselves? Why was it so important to make the wells nonproductive?

    I think it’s because the wells represent Avraham—his vision, his values, his knowledge of Hashem. Perhaps there was hope that with Avraham’s death, there would also be the death of everything he stood for, and the world could now forget about Hashem. And so, they stopped up the wells and the “mayim chayim” that represented Avraham’s teachings. They covered the wells with earth to remove any trace that they ever existed. Surely Yitzchak is no Avraham they thought. Surely he doesn’t have what it takes to continue his father’s legacy. They mocked him, claiming that he wasn’t even Avraham’s son (thus, says the Midrash, the need for the redundancy, “And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham begot Isaac”—to remove any doubt that Yitzchak was not only the spiritual, but the biological heir to Avraham.)

    And so, in his quiet, determined way, Yitzchak comes back and redigs these wells one by one. He reasserts the vision of Avraham—“and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them”—and his rightful place as Avraham’s successor. The wells flow with “mayim chayim” once again, until even Avimelech must capitulate and admit, “We saw plainly that Hashem was with thee…”

  3. Interesting. Is there anything that tells us if the Philistines adopted Yitzchak's names for these wells?

  4. i like Barry's way of thinking.
    The ramban says that the wells represent the 3 temples. the temple is a place where the values of avrohom come together with that of yitschok's. yaakov dwells in the tents plural because he brings together these 2 homes into one. the force of expansion and love of avrohom and the one of self negation of yitschok, that is why when he goes towards becoming a father he finds the place of the temple.
    thru out the story of the wells, all yitschok is doing is re-digging the wells his father dug. the difference is that the plishtim filled up with earth. earth is the food of the snake (r' bechayei). the future redemption is in the merit of this power (shabbos 89).
    the place of the temple is a place where we must fear and respect g-d. the oppsoite of that is the plishtim with their mockery. they plishtim come between avrohom and yitschok and claim that avrohom is not the real father of yitschok but avimelech is!
    when plishtim capture the holy ark the verses say that all respect is taken from israel. (based on teaching of my rebbi)

  5. rav shapiro, i don't like to quote by name because of fear of misquoting/representing especially when trying to squeeze into few words,
    yasher koach

  6. I understand your concern, but as you are commenting anonymously, I would doubt much is gained by saying "based on the teachings of my rebbe."
    Thank you for sharing a snapshot of Rav Moshe Shapiro's profound teachings.

  7. Oyster-
    "It's amazing how much echoing of the narrative occurs between Abraham & Isaac."
    I've written about this phenomenon here.

  8. Barry-
    You win.

    You are raising an excellent question. I have no idea.