King of…the Jungle?
The first encounter with Avimelech, King of the Plishtim, was when Avraham told Sarah to say that she was his sister, because he feared that if the Plishtim knew she was his wife they would kill him. Instead they simply took Sarah and gave her to the king. G-D told Avimelech in a dream to not touch her, ‘lest I kill you.’ Avimelech in essence exclaimed: “What did I do wrong!” “O Lord, will You kill even a righteous nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she said, ‘He is my brother.’ With the innocence of my heart and with the purity of my hands have I done this” (Breishis 20:4, 5). Eventually Avimelech made a treaty with Avraham acknowledging that “G-D is with you in all that you do” (Breishis 21:22).
Again in this week’s Torah portion of Toldos, Yitzchak was forced to go down to Gerar, the capital city of the Plishtim, due to a severe famine. He told his wife, Rivka, to tell them that she was his sister, out of the same fear of her being taken away and Yitzchak being killed. They did indeed leave them alone, but Avimelech caught them one day being too friendly with each other and again said: “What did I do wrong!” The Torah says: “So Avimelech called Yitzchak, and he said, “Behold, she is your wife; so how could you have said, ‘She is my sister’?” And Isaac said to him, “Because I said, ‘Lest I die because of her.’ And Avimelech said, “What have you done to us? The most prominent of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us. And Avimelech commanded all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall be put to death” (Breishis 26:9-11).
After this episode the Torah relates: “And Yitzchak sowed in that land, and he found in that year a hundred fold, and the Lord 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” (Breishis 26:12-14). Yitzchok then dug up the well his father had dug, which the Plishtim had closed, saying: “They may become a source of danger to us because of marauding troops that may invade us,” as Rashi on pasuk 15 mentions. Avimelech then told Yitzchak to leave them. Yitzchak) settled in the Valley of Gerar not too far away, and the Plishtim shepherds argued with Yitzchok’s shepherds, and again closed up wells which Yitzchok had dug. Yitzchok then dug one more well, which they didn’t touch, but Yitzchok decided to move to Be’er Sheva. All this time Hashem had granted Yitzchok much financial success even though there was a famine in the land. The Targum Yonasan on pasuk 26 points out that even the Plishtim in the vicinity reaped the benefits of Hashem’s blessing to Yitzchok.
At that point Avimelech ran after Yitzchok. Yitzchok asked him what he wanted; you hate me and drove me away from you. Avimelech responded that he wanted to reaffirm the treaty he made with Avraham, Yitzchok’s father: “We have seen that the Lord was with you; so we said: Let there now be an oath between us, between ourselves and you, and let us form a covenant with you. If you do [not] harm us, as we have not touched you, and as we have done with you only good, and we sent you away in peace, [so do] you now, blessed of the Lord.”
The Daas Zekeinim on this pasuk asserts that Avimelech “is compared to a lion which got a bone stuck in his throat and says anyone who comes and takes out the bone shall receive much riches. A bird came, which was a crane with a long neck, and said I will get it out. The bird stuck its head inside the lion’s mouth and took out the bone. After he took it out he asked for his reward. The lion said to him, ‘Isn’t it enough that I sent you away in peace and didn’t eat you when you stuck your head down my throat, you now have the audacity to ask for your reward?’ So to Avimelech said to Yitzchok, ‘We did a great kindness to you by sending you away in peace because our way of life is to hurt anyone that comes our way.’” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
Kafui tov! What an ingrate!! The crane just saved the lion’s life and not only does he not give him the promised reward, he says you are lucky I didn’t kill you? So too Avimelech says you are lucky I didn’t harm you when I sent you away. Yet now it seems like he wants him back because of the blessing on his land, so he has claims against Yitzchok for leaving his vicinity. What kind of chutzpah is that?
What’s even worse is that Avimelech sounds like he is being authentic. He really feels insulted that Yitzchok left, even though he didn’t harm him as they did to most people. What did we do wrong?!
Is it really possible for someone to think that it is perfectly alright to hurt people, just part of their normal way of life, to the point that it is an act of kindness not to hurt them? Furthermore, why was Avimelech compared to a lion, specifically?
It would seem that this misguided philosophy in life stems from a negative character trait of a brute or bully. There are people who are tough and controlling; that is their demeanor. They think they are always correct and that they do nothing wrong. If that is their attitude they cannot admit they are wrong, and they even believe they are righteous, always having an excuse for their actions. No wonder they can convince themselves that there is nothing wrong with hurting people.
On the flip side here is an example of true sincerity from the very same episode.
Appreciating What You Do
We all know that every single sentence, word, and even a letter in the Torah have a lesson, or halacha that Hashem is teaching us. In this week’s Torah portion of Toldos we find one of the smallest pesukim in the Torah it is only 3 words: “וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב יִצְחָ֖ק בִּגְרָֽר,” “And Yitzchok lived in Gerar” (Breishis 26:6).
We have to put the pesukim in context in order to appreciate the lesson that is being related from this seemingly simple pasuk. The Torah at the beginning of the perek relates: “And there was a famine in the land, aside from the first famine that had been in the days of Abraham, and Isaac went to Avimelech the king of the Philistines, to Gerar. And the Lord appeared to him, and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land that I will tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and I will bless you, for to you and to your seed will I give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham, your father. And I will multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens, and I will give your seed all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will bless themselves by your seed, Because Abraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My instructions” (Breishis 26:1-5).
After Hashem tells Yitzchak not to go down to Egypt though there is a famine, rather just stay in Gerar, because Hashem will take care of him, but not only that, everything and everyone around him will be blessed, the Torah then says in pasuk 6: “And Yitzchok lived in Gerar.” The Ibn Ezra says we learn from here that Yitzchok “did as Hashem commanded of him.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
What kind of lesson is this, why would we not think Yitzchak would do as Hashem commanded? Yitzchak grew up in Avraham’s household, the Ibn Ezra explains the previous pasuk to be telling us that the reason why Hashem is promising Yitzchak all this blessing is because his father, Avraham, followed him with blind faith to the land of Israel, was willing to sacrifice his only son on Hashem’s command, observed all the mitzvos of the Written Torah and it’s Oral explanation, as well as performed a bris on himself, his children and all his servants. So Yitzchak was raised in a house which was deeply G-D fearing and surrounded by belief and trust in Hashem. Yitzchak himself was a very holy person who dedicated himself to Hashem by completely acquiescing to being offered on the alter. On top of all that, he didn’t just figure out that Hashem wanted him to stay in Israel, Hashem came to him in prophesy and actually told him. So of course he would listen, why does the Torah have to write three extra words to praise him for that, even if it is a time of famine, Hashem still assured him that He will take care of him and even bring blessing to all those around Yitzchak?
We can learn a very powerful lesson from these 3 words. We have to give ourselves credit where credit is due. We can’t underestimate how incredible it is to follow the command of the King of all Kings, Master of the Universe, Blessed Be He. Doing Hashem will, observing His commandments is a big deal and what even seems to be a menial job as what Yitzchak did deserves 3 extra words to be written in the Torah. That is the emphasis the Ibn Ezra is pointing out that the Torah is teaching us.
And by not underestimating and by giving ourselves credit for doing Hashem’s will day in and day out it should better our service of Hashem!