There was another famine in the land of Canaan like in the times of Avraham Avinu in this week’s Torah portion of Toldos. Yitzchak then went down with Rivka to Gerar in the land of the Philistines, by what is today Gaza. The Philistines have disappeared from the face of the Earth and should not be mixed up with modern Palestinians, who are a totally different people.
Hashem specifically told Yitzchak not to go to Egypt and rather to the place where Hashem would indicate Yitzchak should sojourn. This wound up being Gerar, where Avimelech, the King of the Philistines ruled. Eventually the Torah records, “And Yitzchak sowed in that land, and he found in that year a hundred-fold, and Hashem blessed him. And the man became great, and he grew constantly greater until he had grown very great. And he had possessions of sheep and possessions of cattle and much production, and the Philistines envied him. And all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Avraham his father the Philistines stopped them up and filled them with earth. And Avimelech said to Yitzchak, ‘Go away from us, for you have become much stronger than we.’ And Yitzchak went away from there, and he encamped in the valley of Gerar and dwelt there” (Breishis 26:12-17).
Yitzchak continued to dig wells in the Valley of Gerar, and the herdsman of Gerar quarreled with him. Eventually Yitzchak settled back in Be’er Sheva, and King Avimelech goes after him and wants to make a peace treaty. At first the Torah mentions “And Yitzchak said to them, ‘Why have you come to me, since you hate me, and you sent me away from you?’” (Breishis 26:27). Ultimately Avimelech made a successful peace treaty, which is a model for any authentic peace treaty.
The Ralbag teaches us how this is a model lesson in the proper and real way of signing a peace treaty. First the Ralbag points out a lesson that “it is befitting for a person to have patience for the honor of Hashem in order to fulfill His command. As we see Yitzchak, because Hashem commanded him to sojourn in Gerar, had to be patient with the fact that the Philistines were trying to anger him as much as possible, and still he did not leave the area until the king forced him to leave.” What’s an even more incredible lesson is that when King Avimelech did confront Yitzchak to make peace, for he saw that Yitzchak was blessed and successful due to his close connection to Hashem, Yitzchak’s initial reaction was anger and rebuke. The Ralbag learns from Yitzchak’s response an important lesson in honesty, “that a person should not be thinking one thing and say something different. For we see that Yitzchak didn’t flatter Avimelech when he came over to [Yitzchak], but rather he rebuked him for confronting him after [Avimelech] showed hatred toward him and sent him away.”
But Avimelech was a good negotiator, and we should learn a lesson from what he did. First off, the Ralbag learns, “it is inappropriate for one who is seeking peace to approach with a massive army and a strong arm because this type of peace won’t ever happen, rather it is fearmongering. It is not heartfelt, coming from the depth of one’s soul, and it is the opposite intent of peace. This is why you’ll find that Avimelech, though he was king, only brought with him two people to beseech peace from Yitzchak, and they were Achuzas [his friend] and Phichol, the general of his army. Besides this, it was just proper manners to not over burden Yitzchak when they came to eat and drink with him. The Ralbag also points out that it’s not appropriate to ask a favor for a loved one unless it’s in the same measure than what you would do for him. For this reason, Avimelech only requested from Yitzchak to not do bad to him just as [Avimelech] wouldn’t do to [Yitzchak].” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We find nowadays peace negotiations with threats and various unreasonable requests, which seem to be getting nowhere. The threats and unreasonable requests are what cause peace negotiations to fall apart. We see from the way Avimelech handled things, that he came with only two others, not intimidating, not overbearing, and though he was a powerful king, he only requested as much as he would do himself. We see that the key to a successful peace treaty is to not be a burden on the other party.
If Avimelech had come, trying to instill fear into Yitzchak and not out of genuine love, then he would have been a burden. Bringing too many people with him, that Yitzchak would have to host, would have been a burden. Asking for more than what he himself would be willing to do would have been a burden. Therefore Avimelech in the end made peace, though at first Yitzchak, doing the proper thing, did not flatter Avimelech and gave him what was on his mind. The Torah concludes this confrontation, “So he made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. And they arose early in the morning, and they swore one to the other, and Yitzchak escorted them, and they went away from him in peace” (Breishis 26:30, 31).