Our forefathers made a fortune

The Torah is keen to mention how our forefathers made a fortune, each one in his own way, a sort of rags to riches story specific to him.

Yshai Amichai ,

Yshai Amichai
Yshai Amichai
Courtesy

Abraham

Abraham came to Canaan with some wealth, but he left in a famine and went down to Egypt. In Egypt Abraham was almost “married” into the royal family, to become the “brother-in-law” of pharaoh.

It is said of Abraham that he acquired “sheep, cattle, donkeys, slaves, maidservants, female donkeys, and camels.” (Genesis 12:16). Then pharaoh expelled him with his newly gained wealth. Upon his return to Canaan, it says that Abraham was “exceedingly wealthy in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” (Genesis 13:2).

This was Abraham’s rags to riches story. He suffered a famine in Canaan but returned from Egypt soon after a very rich man, all according to God’s plan.

Isaac

Isaac also experienced a famine in his days, and, as the Torah states, “Isaac went to Avimelech king of the Philistines, towards Gerar.” (Genesis 26:1). Which is an odd way of putting it, as if Isaac went to the king and less importantly to the place.

Genesis 26 continues to recount the story. God Tells Isaac not to go down to Egypt, but to dwell in the land that God will tell him, to dwell in Gerar, where God will be with him and will Bless him. So Isaac dwelled in Gerar (26:2-6).

But the story continues, and it does not appear that Isaac really went to Avimelech, at least not initially. That encounter is recorded only later, after many days had passed, when Avimelech summoned Isaac to interrogate him for gravely misleading his people in the matter of his wife.

In consequence of that encounter, Avimelech granted Isaac his royal protection, which was the key to his success there. After that “Isaac sowed in that land and found in that year a hundredfold, and the Lord Blessed him.” (26:12).

“The man [Isaac] grew rich, and his wealth continued to grow, until he became exceedingly wealthy. He had flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and many enterprises, and the Philistines envied him.” (26:13-14). Isaac outgrew his protection, so the Philistine king expelled him, arguing that Isaac had grown exceedingly mightier than them.

Jacob

Jacob fled from his brother and crossed the Euphrates. He arrived in Haran seemingly empty handed, as he couldn’t afford to buy his desired bride. After working for his uncle, Lavan, for 14 years, Jacob was finally debt free and able to leave, but God had other plans for him.

Over the next 6 years, working for his uncle in what could be referred to as futures contracts, with the money put down being his labor, Jacob was able to make a fortune. Much of the wealth he had produced for his uncle as an indentured laborer, ended up becoming his, with God’s Help.

And the man [Jacob] grew exceedingly wealthy, and he had many flocks, and maidservants, and slaves, and camels and donkeys. And he heard the words of Lavan's sons, saying, 'Jacob has taken away all that was our father's, and of that which was our father's has he made all this wealth.’” (Genesis 30:43-31:1).

Jacob saw that he was no longer welcome in Lavan’s house, and God told him to return to Canaan. Jacob feared that his relatives were plotting against him, to send him away empty handed, so he fled without telling them.

But Jacob also knew what troubles awaited him in Canaan. In his fear, Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother, to pay him his respect and to seek his favor, but Esav headed his way with 400 men.

In his great fear and terror, Jacob split his camp in two, saying that if one half is struck the other half could flee. Then Jacob made a remarkable confession and prayer to God:

He said, “I am unworthy of all the kindness and of all the truth that You have shown Your servant. With only my staff I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Rescue me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esav, for I am afraid he will come and strike me down, mother and sons.” (Genesis 32:11-12).

Lessons

In the example of Jacob, with that last quoted statement, it was clear to him that all the wealth and all the souls he had gained, enough to fill two camps, were God’s doing. He possessed a humble perception of himself, the way he slaved away for 14 years for his wives, and the way he referred to himself as the unworthy servant of God.

The image of Jacob crossing the Jordan alone with his staff, is the image of a child born into the world empty handed. It is an image of utter humility, when compared to the two camps of great wealth he had acquired, especially since Jacob continued to view himself that way.

Why, you might ask, did each of our forefathers have to obtain their own wealth? Why could they not just inherit their fathers’ wealth and be called great men in their merits?

The answer is that each man had to become great in his own right, even if that wealth came to him rather easily by God’s doing. What they had to go through in their lives to get to that point, with all their struggles of fortune and faith, is what truly matters. Like digging many deep wells in the desert before one reveals a bountiful spring overnight.

What is also worth noting is where that wealth was revealed to them. Ironically, it was not among the Canaanite nations whom they came to replace, being Promised all their land. It was in Egypt, among other invaders (the Philistines), and back home in Aram.

Abraham had captured great wealth in battle, all the fortunes of Sodom and Gomorrah, but he wanted no part in it. He vowed not to take anything for himself, lest the wicked Sodomite king claim he had enriched Abraham (see Genesis 14:22-23).

The Egyptian and Philistine kings, and the Aramaean uncle, were men of a different caliber. Men worthy enough to enrich prophets of God, to have their wealth and the riches of their kingdoms transferred to God’s servants. Their money was clean enough. It wasn’t until our forefathers reached them that they could truly prosper.

But our forefathers weren’t meant to live among these men. Their encounters with them were mere pit stops along the way in their journeys, ones meant to enrich and strengthen them. Once that goal was achieved, they were forced to leave, to carry out God’s mission for them.

If you consider these points and understand them well enough, you will find wisdom in them to lead your own life.

Yshai Amichai is an Israeli citizen dedicated to Israel’s upholding of the Torah as a nation. He may be contacted at yshaia@gmail.com.



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