Parashas Toldos

In this week’s parashah, the Torah states (Bereishis 26:1-3):
And there was a famine in the land, aside from the first famine that occurred in the days of Avraham, and Yitzchak went to Avimelech, king of the Philistines – to Gerar. And Hashem appeared to him and said: “Do not go down to Egypt – dwell in the land that I shall indicate to you. Sojourn in this land, and I shall be with you, and I shall bless you – for to you and to your offspring I shall give all these lands, and I shall fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Avraham.”
The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 64:1-2):
It is written (Tehillim 37:18-19): “Hashem knows the days of the wholehearted, and their inheritance shall abide forever. They shall not be abashed in times of misfortune, and in days of famine they shall be sated.” Hashem knows the days of the wholehearted – this refers to Yitzchak. And their inheritance shall abide forever – “Sojourn in this land.” They shall not be abashed in times of misfortune – the misfortune that Avimelech suffered. And in days of famine they shall be sated – “And there was a famine in the land.” It is written further (Mishlei 10:3): “Hashem does not bring hunger upon the soul of a saintly man, but the wicked He topples with their wreckage.” Hashem does not bring hunger upon the soul of a saintly man – this refers to Yitzchak: “Sojourn in this land.” But the wicked He topples with their wreckage – this refers to Avimelech.
The aim of this enigmatic Midrash, the Maggid says, is to explain the phrasing in Hashem’s message to Yitzchak. Hashem had previously made a covenant with Avraham and told him (Bereishis 18:15): “To your offspring I have given this land.” Indeed, in regard to this Divine proclamation, Rashi comments: “With Hashem’s word it is as if it is done.” In other words, Hashem’s proclamation already invested Avraham’s family conclusively with title to the land. It is natural, then, to ask why Hashem phrased His command to Yitzchak to remain in the Land of Israel in terms of “sojourning,” as if Yitzchak were a foreigner residing in the land. The Maggid explains how the Midrash provides the answer to this question.
The starting point for the explanation is the following verse (Tehillim 104:31): “May Hashem’s glory endure forever; let Hashem rejoice in His works.” On a simple level, in the context of the verse, the phrase ישמח ה' is read as we have rendered it: “Let Hashem rejoice.” But since the phrase involves a future tense verb construction, it can also be read as a statement about the future: “Hashem shall rejoice.” The Midrash in Vayikra Rabbah 20:2 makes a point of this matter, stating that, so to speak, Hashem does not rejoice in His works now, but will rejoice only in the future.  Similarly, it is written elsewhere (Tehillim 149:2): “Let Yisrael rejoice in their Maker; let the Children of Zion jubilate in their King.” Again, the Midrash picks up on the future tense construction, and remarks that Yisrael does not rejoice in their Maker now, but will rejoice only in the future. Our Sages seek to explain here why Hashem puts off granting us satisfaction for a later time, when we reach the end of days, while granting others satisfaction right away. By way of analogy, an innkeeper will attend right away to a guest who he knows is a hurry to head out on the road, and will put off attending to a guest who he knows is planning to stay for some time. Similarly, with nations whose time on the world scene is limited, Hashem has to grant them their measure of satisfaction right away. But we, the Jewish People, are here to stay, and so Hashem can put off granting us our measure of satisfaction until the most opportune time.
The same idea underlies the Midrash on our passage. The Midrash quotes David HaMelech’s words: “Hashem knows the days of the wholehearted, and their inheritance shall abide forever.” We Jews will abide forever, and hence, even though Hashem promised us the Land of Israel, He need not rush to give us full possession of it – there is yet time.
The Midrash continues with another verse phrase: “They shall not be abashed in times of misfortune.” The Midrash reads this phrase as indicating that Yitzchak did not suffer the misfortune that came upon Avimelech. We can explain the matter as follows. Hashem had decided to bring a famine on the land. He wanted Yitzchak to stay put and not travel elsewhere, but, at the same time, He did not want Yitzchak to suffer. He therefore phrased His message to Yitzchak with deliberate care, telling him: “Sojourn in this land.” His intent was to give Yitzchak the status of a sojourner, rather than a settler, so that he would not be subject to the decree of famine that had been cast upon Avimelech. Thus, the final segment of the Midrash indicates that it was because “Hashem does not bring hunger upon the soul of a saintly man” that He told Yitzchak: “Sojourn in this land.” We see here the profound kindness that Hashem shows to those who are devoted to Him. It was not merely because He had plenty of time that Hashem put off transferring ownership of the land to Yitzchak; rather, He delayed the transfer deliberately for Yitzchak’s benefit.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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