<I>Toldot:</I> Avoiding Arguments

In this week's parsha, Yitzchak appears as the peace-keeper par excellence. Just as Hillel cannot be angered, Yitzchak cannot be dragged into a fight.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
It is well-known that Jewish law not only forbids starting an argument, but also enjoins us from continuing a controversy. Similarly, the Maharal explains that it is not enough to be "peace-loving"; one must actively "pursue peace" [as the High Priest Aharon did] in order to prevent controversy (see Derech Chaim 1:12).

In this week's parsha, Yitzchak appears as the peace-keeper par excellence. Just as Hillel cannot be angered, Yitzchak cannot be dragged into a fight. "All the wells that Avraham's servants had dug in his lifetime were sealed off and filled with dirt by the Philistines." (Genesis 26:15) But we do not find that this caused strife with Yitzchak. Even when Avimelech, the Philistine king, drove him out, saying, "Go away from us, for you are mightier than we," (op. cit. 16) he was silent. He went somewhere else and dug new wells: "And they found there a well of springing water." (op. cit. 19) But again: "And the shepherds of Gerar quarreled with the shepherds of Yitzchak, saying the water was theirs." (op. cit. 20) What was Yitzchak's response? "And he called the name of the well Asek [Strife], for they strove with him." (ibid.) It is better to expend one's energy on digging another well than on fighting. "And they dug another well," (op. cit. 21) but "and they fought over it too." (ibid.) Nevertheless, Yitzchak's only reaction is, "And he called its name Sitna [Hatred]." (ibid.)

He preferred to try again somewhere else: " And he moved away from there, and he dug another well." (op. cit. 22) This time, "they did not fight over it." (ibid.) Thank G-d. "And he called its name Rechovot [Expansiveness], and he said, 'For now G-d has made room for us.'" (ibid.)

We might argue that anyone who flees from confrontation will lose all he has. Isn't it better to stand on one's principles until one wins? Yitzchak, however, received the Divine "stamp of approval": "And G-d appeared to him that night and He said: 'Do not fear, for I am with you and I shall bless you.'" (op. cit. 24)

After all that, a guest visits Yitzchak: "And Avimelech went to him" (op. cit. 26) - the rabble-rouser sealer of his wells has arrived. Welcome. "Why did you come to me?" (op. cit. 27) asks Yitzchak. For my part, you are my friend, but "You have hated me" (ibid.) so much that you drove me out - "you sent me away from you." (ibid.) Yitzchak allows himself some mild criticism since it is now they who are seeking him out.

"And they said, 'We have seen that G-d is with you, and we said [to ourselves] that we should make a covenant with you.'" (op. cit. 28) Instead of being angry, Yitzchak even agrees to that. Then Avimelech stipulates, "If you do us harm although we have not laid hands on you, and as we have done to you only good and sent you away peacefully..." (op. cit. 29). That is too much! After all the unwarranted evil done to him, they have the nerve to insult him and insinuate that he is to blame for the tension, that his bad behaviour is responsible for the bad relations!

Isn't it about time now for Yitzchak to react sharply? No. "He made them a feast and they ate and drank." (op. cit. 30) He invited them to eat and sleep with him: "...and they ate and they drank, and they arose in the morning, and Yitzchak sent them on their way, and they left him peacefully." (op. cit. 30-31)