Parshat Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)
(Translated from the Hebrew original)
Parshat Toldot provides a detailed account of the dismal relationship between twin brothers, Ya’akov and Eisav, yet within the narration of the tempestuous events affecting Yitzhak’s family, it manages to introduce a curious episode that resembles current developments.
Our great forefathers possessed swathes of cattle, including a great many sheep and cows, and they needed massive quantities of water to sustain their herds. Since Eretz Yisrael was not blessed with ubiquitous springs and rivers, Avraham dug wells at a number of locations, as well he should have, if he had hoped to establish himself in the land and base his livelihood on its waters. The Torah describes what occurred in the following verse:
“… 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 up, and filled them with earth.” (Bereishit 26:14-15)
Yitzhak, Avraham’s son, would need to re-dig the wells his father had dug, and the Torah emphasizes that Yitzhak gave these wells the same names his father had given them. At that very moment, a conflict strikes up between Isaac’s shepherds and Philistine shepherds over the water, and the wells are given new names: “Esek” and “Sitnah”.We might ask ourselves an innocent question: Why would the local inhabitants be opposed to wells being dug in such an arid region? Wouldn’t they, themselves, benefit from the development of these water sources, which they could use for themselves or have their cattle drink?
In fact, rabbis throughout the generations struggled to understand why the Philistines acted as they did, and suggested several ideas that could shed light on their enigmatic behavior. Some claimed that the Philistines were concerned that if the wells were dug, their enemies would have an easier time conquering those lands from them, and they may have feared that digging wells would ruin or degrade the soil. Others explained that the Philistines didn’t want to give the sons of Avraham a sense of ownership over the land, so they tried to dispossess them by stopping up the wells.
The Torah seems to offer another explanation: jealousy. Reuven watches as Shimon refuses to lay idle, works hard, and ultimately succeeds in getting the best out of the land, and Reuven is driven toward jealousy. That jealously could lead him down two different paths. One path is called “When scholars compete, knowledge increases”. (“קנאת סופרים תרבה חכמה”) If Reuven chooses this path, he will try to learn from Shimon’s actions and emulate them. The other path is called “If I can’t have it, you can’t, either”. This is the path of jealousy rooted in the desire to destroy the achievement of others.
In Israel, it looks like nothing is new under the sun. The Zionist settlement movement has been a blessing for those dwelling in the land, both Jew and Gentile, in almost every corner it has reached. A desolate, disease-ridden land once pocked with swamps blossomed following the arrival of the Jewish pioneers in the late 19th century. Yet what was the response of the Arab inhabitants of the land at that time? Was it based on acceptance and a desire to learn from the achievements of the pioneers – or jealousy that led to destruction and hatred?
Yitzhak neither succumbed nor capitulated, even after he had renamed the well he had dug “Sitnah”, since the Philistines contested his claim over this well as well. He relocated the well, digging a new one at a place he called “Rehovot”.
“For now the Lord has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land.” (Bereishit 26:22).
Ultimately, Israel will be possessed by those who love it, and devote all of their faculties to building it up and developing it. Those who try to dispossess others out of hate and jealousy, by sealing wells or by launching missiles, will find themselves engulfed in an endless sea of hate.