Tel G’ama, near Kibbutz Re’im (Photo: Michael Casher)
Lessons from Yitzchak Avinu in Gaza:
Planting and Digging Anew
BY RABBANIT SHANI TARAGIN
Since the horrific massacre of October 7, the day we concluded and restarted our annual reading of the Torah, each parashat hashavua has resonated with timely messages, whispers of the Divine word to strengthen us as we confront contemporary challenges. Parashat Toldot, for example, which retells the narratives of Yitzchak in Gerar, identified by Professor Yehuda Elitzur as Tel G’ama / Kibbutz Re’im on the border of Gaza, was read six weeks after the IDF entered Gaza to destroy Hamas. The Torah teaches us of Yitzchak’s agricultural success, followed by the jealousy of the neighboring Pelishtim and their disputes concerning wells in the southern areas of Israel (Bereishit 26:13–33). The milah mancha (leitwort) of the story, the word consistently repeated throughout the narrative, is be’er (well), which appears eight times. The repetition of this word underscores the significance of the theme, and is further highlighted by the name of Eisav’s father-in-law, Be’eri. This word echoes with the bitterness we feel today as we recall the horrors of the kibbutz which carries the same name.
After plugging the wells dug by Avraham with earth, the Pelishtim continued to harass Yitzchak even after he relocated and redug his father’s wells. The Torah recounts how Yitzchak’s servants dug new wells of fresh water (“Esek” and “Sitnah”) only to watch them become contested and quarreled over by the Pelishtim. These wells were followed by three others, two of which were named “Rechovot” and “Shiva.” Biblical commentators are bothered by the Torah’s recording of the seemingly trivial incidents of these seven wells in such detail. Nachmanides (26:20), consistent with his thesis that the experiences of the Patriarchs are signposts of Jewish history, explains the story of the three wells at the beginning of the passage as corresponding to the three Temples; the first two were destroyed due to contention (Esek) and baseless hatred (Sitnah), while the eternal one yet to be built – “Rechovot,” meaning “expansive” – will come at a time when strife and enmity will be phenomena of the past.
Beyond its prophetic meaning, Yitzchak’s redigging of his father’s wells teaches us the importance of continuity in the Land despite hardship and oppression. Though less glamorous than discoveries of new sources of water, stories of revisiting the past and maintaining his father’s legacy are recorded to highlight the message of perpetuation. The dominant presence of Avraham’s name in Yitzchak’s narrative and the many parallels between their stories underscore the preservation of the spiritual inheritance of Avraham through Yitzchak.
The similarities between their stories, however, also highlight their differences. As opposed to Avraham, who went down to Egypt due to famine, Yitzchak is commanded to remain in the Land. In contrast to Avraham, the nomadic shepherd, Yitzchak is the first to engage intensively in agriculture, planting and digging to secure himself in the Land. Yitzchak must first redig his father’s wells and legacy and then search for new ones on his own. But even when he does so, he is only successful when he adopts his father’s dynamic lesson – “וַיַּעְתֵּק מִשָּׁם, he moved from there” (12:8, 26:22). Avraham realized, after being promised the Land, that he must move away from his Canaanite neighbors and create a new culture of calling out in the name of Hashem. Only when Yitzchak does the same and “moves away” from his Gerarite neighbors can he successfully call out in the name of Hashem.
The message of the Torah is astounding for today’s times. Yitzchak’s “disengagement” from Gaza helped him recognize and attribute his success in the Land to Hashem. Only then did Avimelech come to establish a peace treaty as he did with Avraham, allowing co-existence. Once again, Yitzchak distinguished himself; he learned the lessons of failed treaties and, instead of a long-lasting treaty, sufficed with an oath of peace. The Torah adds that on that day, a seventh source of water was revealed, and Yitzchak renamed the city of his father’s oath (shevuah) to Avimelech – Be’er Sheva – this time after the seventh well.
Yitzchak’s wells indeed foretell the future – not only of the Batei Mikdash, but of our struggles in Gerar / Gaza and our ultimate success. Security, agricultural bounty, and potential peace with neighbors will be achieved through perpetuating our patriarchal legacies of calling out in the name of Hashem. Simultaneously, the Torah assures us that if we continue to plant and dig – not tunnels of terror, but wells of water – investing in the continuity of our Torah, our Land, and our nation, then our efforts will yield long-lasting fruit.
Rabbanit Shani Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and the Director of the Mizrachi-TVA Lapidot Educator’s Program.