By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute
“And the Philistines stopped up all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham, filling them with earth. And Avimelech said to Yitzchak: Go away from us, for you have become too big for us. So Yitzchak departed from there and encamped in the wadi of Gerar, where he settled” (Bereishit 26: 15-17).
Gevurah With No Backbone?
The fact that Yitzchak Avinu is commanded to stay in the Land of Israel and refrain from going down to Egypt does not make life easy for him. Similar to his father, he must hide the fact that Rivka is his wife. Despite Avimelech granting royal protection to the couple (“Anyone who molests this man or his wife shall be put to death”) and the tremendous Divine blessing (“And Yitzchak sowed in that land and reaped a hundredfold the same year, and G-d blessed him”), this does not prevent the Philistines from being jealous of his success and persecuting him.
However, what is astounding here is Yitzchak’s reaction. When Avimelech asks him to leave (“for you have become far too big for us”), he picks up and leaves. When the Philistines fight with him over the first well he digs, and then the second, he goes on to dig up a third well, over which there is finally no fighting. Thanks to this expansive relief (harchavah) he calls the well Rechovot. What is so strange is that Yitzchak is generally perceived as the embodiment of middat ha’din, the attribute of strict justice, expressed in the trait of gevurah (inner strength, might). Yitzchak’s comportment throughout this whole saga doesn’t seem to fit with these traits, but rather, on the face of it, reflects weakness.
Standing Before G-d Alone
It seems that gevurah should be understood differently than the way we are used to. The deeper meaning of this trait is “going all the way,” without giving in or taking other parties or aspects into consideration. Yitzchak Avinu does exactly this. Yitzchak understands that, in truth, if a person harms us, he is only a Divine messenger; it could be that he will be punished for his actions, but that is none of our business. Whatever happens to us, whether via man or by “natural forces,” is what G-d decreed would happen. As a result, there is no need to respond or retaliate, and that is exactly what Yitzchak does (or, rather, refrains from doing).
However, at times it is G-d’s will, as He instructs us in His Torah or through the prophets, to respond in one way or another. When we do respond, we should do so because it is G-d’s will, and we should act in the manner G-d wants us to. For this reason, the natural results of our actions become irrelevant. Whether it is few against many, weak against strong, we just have to perform our duty, since the rest is up to G-d anyway.
On National And Personal Levels
This is very true on a national level, as well. From the beginning of our national rebirth in our Land, G-d placed among us strips of rebellious groups in the form of the Arabs residents of Israel, who have adopted the name “Palestinians,” after the Philistines. Despite the fact that they prefer to view themselves as the descendants of Yishmael, son of Avraham, and not of the Philistines, the historical role of the Philistines then and the Palestinians today is one and the same: to ensure that the Jewish People fulfills its destiny.
For this reason, it is clear that the solution to the problem cannot simply be responding to the rebelling forces alone — regardless of whether it is with an iron hand or attempts to placate and appease. The primary focus needs to be on strengthening our bond with the One Who placed the rebellious population here to begin with: G-d, Who uses the Arabs to help us stay on course. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have to react to their actions, since G-d does want us to react! However, our focus has to be that as part of strengthening our bond with G-d, we treat our enemies the way G-d wants us to. In other words, the problem is not the Arabs, but rather our relationship with G-d.
The same principle applies in the private sphere as well. King David, when fleeing from his son Avshalom, exemplified this point. When told he should execute Shimi ben Geira for cursing him, he refuses, saying: “G-d told him to curse David.” At a different occasion, before David’s death, he does command his son Shlomo to punish him for rebelling against the king—and this, too, is in keeping with G-d’s will. However, in the heat of the moment, David found it correct to emphasize this point: the true issue lies not between himself and Shimi ben Geira, but rather between him and G-d. David’s incredible statement prompts the Chozeh mi’Lublin (Zot Zikaron 1) to sum the issue up as such.
“One should be cautious of pride … and of anger … and never get angry at all at anyone … and it is good to remember that everything is from the Creator, blessed be He, as it is written (Chullin 7b): ‘A person injures his finger below [on earth] only if they declare about him on high’ even if this is caused by those who have free choice.”
That is, whenever we have a problem with someone — whether it’s one’s spouse, a family member, friend, or neighbor, we need to internalize that the real issue is between us and G-d, and that the person in question is only G-d’s messenger. And just like it is senseless to blame the hand dealing the blow and view it as a separate entity from the person whose hand it is, there is no point in getting angry at the messenger, who we understand is just a messenger from G-d.
Rabbi Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute. Torah VeHa’aretz Institute (the Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel) engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today. For additional information and inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-8-684-7325