Parashas Toldos

This week’s parashah deals with two topics: the birth and development of Eisav and Yaakov, and Yitzchak’s sojourn in the Philistine city of Gerar. We present here a selection from the Maggid’s commentary on the second of these topics.
Yitzchak travels to Gerar because of a famine, grows very successful, and then is driven out. The Philistine king Avimelech tells him (Bereishis 26:16): “Go away from being with us, for you have grown much mightier than us.” Later, Avimelech and his men approach Yitzchak. The Torah relates (Bereishis 26:27-29):
And Yitzchak said to them: “Why have you come to me, when you hated me and drove me away from you?” They said: “We saw clearly that Hashem was with you, so we said, ‘Let there now be an oath between us, respectively – between us and you – and let us establish a pact with you.’”
The Maggid interprets this exchange as follows. In Avimelech’s prior eviction message to Yitzchak, the Hebrew phrase ki atzamta mimenu meod, meaning literally “for you have grown much mightier than us,” can be rendered as “for you have grown very mighty on our account” (reading mimenu as meaning “from us” rather than “than us”). According to the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 64:7, Avimelech was arguing that Yitzchak attained all his wealth at the Philistines’ expense. We can explain the matter as follows. Success can be classified into two types: success through the natural means of making a livelihood and success through extraordinary (e.g., miraculous) means. One basic difference between these two types is that success through natural means is typically gradual, from level to level, while success through extraordinary means typically involves a sudden jump from one extreme to the other. Another basic difference is that people tend to bear a grudge against a neighbor who achieves success by natural means, but not against one who achieves success by extraordinary means. When a neighbor achieves success through a certain trade, people tend to say: “If he weren’t doing business here, we’d be making the money he is making, for we also are skilled in this trade.” In the case of success through extraordinary means, this argument does not apply. Thus, for example, if a person has a rich uncle in a distant city who sends him a hefty sum of money every month, no one has any reason to bear a grudge against him, for he is not taking anything away from anybody.
Now, Yitzchak’s success was gradual, as the Torah states (Bereishis 26:13): “The man became great, and grew successively greater, until he was very great.” Thus, his success appeared to be of a natural sort. It is true that Yitzchak reaped an extremely bountiful crop – a hundredfold. But, still, he operated within the natural farming cycle – he did not reap, in the manner described in Yeshayah 17:11, immediately after he planted. The Philistines therefore accused him of encroaching on their territory and infringing on their livelihood. But afterward they saw that, even after Yitzchak left their territory, he continued to succeed in everything he did, while they remained at the same economic level as before, gaining nothing from his departure. They saw that Yitzchak was successful because Hashem was with him. And they realized, in retrospect, that the success Yitzchak attained while he lived among them was also a special blessing from Hashem, with no infringement against them whatsoever. Avimelech’s reply to Yitzchak’s query about why he had approached him reflects a new understanding on the Philistines’ part. In his reply, Avimelech uses a double verb: reo raeenu – we saw clearly. This double verb alludes to the fact that what the Philistines saw after Yitzchak had left them led them to see properly what had been taking place before. They recognized that Yitzchak’s success was due simply to his being “blessed of Hashem.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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