Sunday, November 23, 2014

On the Trail of Blessings: Yitzchok's Wisdom & the Curse of Wealth II

[This is part 3 1/2 of the series. Begin the trail here.]

In the previous post we learned that Yitzchok wanted to protect Yaakov from the spiritual dangers of wealth. But there is another danger posed by wealth, a danger Yitzchok suffered from personally.
The man [Yitzchok] grew and continued growing until he was very great. He had sheep, cattle and many fields, and the Philistines became jealous of him. All the wells that his father's servants dug in the days of Avraham, the Philistines sealed them up and filled them with earth. Avimelech said to Yitzchok, "Leave us. You have become a lot stronger than we are." (Bereishis 26:13-16)
Wealth stimulates deep, primal feelings of jealousy and extraordinary wealth generates extraordinary jealousy. Yitzchok had to battle the Philistines not only for the rights to his father's wells, but also for the rights to his own wells, dug and discovered by his own men (cf. 26:19-21). And jealousy quickly evolves into hatred, as Yitzchok bluntly challenged Avimelech, "Why have you come to me? You hate me and you evicted me from [living] with you!" (26:27)  

Hashem is cognizant of this reality and He promises to protect His nation from the inevitable side-effects of material success.
The land will give her fruit, you will eat to the point of satisfaction, and you will dwell upon [the land] in security. (Vayikra 25:19)
Hashem is saying that notwithstanding your agricultural success, you will dwell in security and not suffer the jealousy of your neighbors (Meshech Chochma, ad loc.).  However, the previous verse explicitly makes this divine protection contingent on good behavior. "And [if] you perform My decrees, and My judgments you observe and fulfill them, [then] you will dwell on the land in security" (ibid 25:18; cf. Rashi ad loc.). If the Jews fall and violate the laws of the Torah, all bets are off. 

In the previous post we learned that wealth can lead to sin and the abandonment of Torah, which, in turn, ultimately leads to famine, exile and poverty. Now we learn that sin removes the divine protection from the jealousy and antisemitism instigated by wealth. 

A dangerous blessing indeed.

Aware of the dangers and the frightening destiny of his own precedent, Yitzchok understandably wished to spare the tent-bound Yaakov the challenge of wealth and the violence of jealous neighbors. Yitzchok's plan was to divert that "blessing" to Eisav, a man better equipped to deal with the Philistines.

Alas, it was not to be.

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