Genesis – Chapter 26

26:1  Isaac Becomes an Alien  –  “Aside from the first famine that was in the days of Abraham.”  –  Midrash Lekach Tov and the commentators observe how this is yet another example of the great similarities between the lives of Abraham and Isaac… There was a famine in the life of Abraham, and in that of Isaac.

This famine was far more severe than that in Abraham’s time.  But there was a far more significant difference between them: the first famine was sent to test Abraham, and this famine was to demonstrate God’s omniscient providence to Isaac.

Further, it manifested His compassionate kindness in that He does not forsake the righteous during a famine nor does He forsake their children, as it is written (Psalms 37:25) “I have not seen a righteous man forsaken, with his children begging for bread.”  Instead, when a famine broke out in Eretz Yisrael, God made a simple provision for Isaac and his family. (Tanchuma)

Ramban notes that the term, ‘the first famine’, might suggest that the famine in Abraham’s time was indeed the first since Creation and therefore the Torah uses it as a reference point.

R’Bachya agrees with Ramban’s implication that the word should be rendered in the relative sense: the earlier famine.  Everyone remembered how Abraham descended to Egypt then, and the great honor God did him.

“And Isaac went to Abimelech..” –  Either this was the same king as in the time of Abraham (chapter 20), or this was the dynastic name of the Philistine monarchy, for in David’s time, the Philistine king was also called Abimelech. (See Psalms 34:1)  (Ramban)

Why did Isaac go to Abimelech in Gerar?  According to Rashbam, the verse implies that Isaac followed the earlier example of Abraham in going to Egypt to escape the famine.  While Isaac was en route to Egypt, God appeared to him, and commanded him not to leave Eretz Yisrael (v.2).

Until commanded not to do so by God, it was Isaac’s intention to follow in his father’s footsteps and go to Egypt.  However, he first went to Abimelech, his father’s ally, to see (in light of the mutual covenant he had with his father – extending to son and grandson (see 21:23) (Radak) whether special arrangements could be made during the duration of the famine to avert the necessity of going down to Egypt. (Ramban)

26:2  “Do not descend into Egypt.” –  For such had indeed been Isaac’s intent following, as he was, the example set by his father, to go down to Egypt in time of the famine.  God accordingly said to him: “Do not go down to Egypt for you are an unblemished offspring, and residence outside the Land does not befit you’. (Rashi)

In other words, having been consecrated as an offering to God on the altar at the Akeidah, Isaac was compared to a perfect offering without a blemish.  Just as an offering becomes unfit if it passes beyond the Temple enclosures, so would Isaac become ‘unfit’ if he left the environs of the Land. (Midrash)

“Dwell in a land that I shall indicate to you.”  –  That is, as a general rule, establish residence throughout your life only in those places that I shall indicate to you from time to time.  (Ramban)  In other words, do not take into your own hands the right to decide where to go, to escape famine; rely on My Providence to direct you.

26:3  “Sojourn in this land..”  – Following Ramban’s primary interpretation: ‘I will indicate to you from time to time where to establish residence, but for the time being, stay a while in this land.’ 

“I will be with you and bless you;..’ –  Although the land of Canaan is suffering famine “I will be with you” and assure that you do not lack pasture, and “I will bless you” with wealth and possessions.  (Sforno)

The expression I will be with you, is echoed often throughout Scripture and said also to Jacob (28:15); to Moses (Exodus 3:12); and Joshua (Joshua 1:5) and in different form to Abraham (15:1).  All are explicit affirmations of Providence watching over the details of their various activities according to the measure of their perfection. (Rambam)

“for to you..”  –  God proceeds to tell Isaac why He is ordering him to sojourn in Philistia rather than Egypt: “because to you and your offspring will I give all these lands.”  You must establish your presence there and show your love for the land which is inherently yours and your offspring’s.  (Alshich; Haamek Davar)

“I will give all these lands..”  –  Philistia is included among these promised lands.  And since this land is included in the Promised Land, your remaining here does not constitute a forbidden departure from the Holy Land.  (Adeidas Yitzchak)

“and establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.”  –  The Hebrew word here could mean either I will fulfill or I will establish.  Abraham had no offspring other then Isaac upon whom a covenant had been established with God.  This is unlike the case of Jacob where (35:12) God did have to give an assurance that the Abrahamitic oath would be fulfilled in Jacob and not Esau.

Since the Torah often refers to oaths made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and we find no other oath made exclusively to Isaac, Ramban concludes that this phrase denotes a fresh oath with Isaac, since it was God’s desire to establish a separate oath with each of the Patriarchs individually to demonstrate each one’s worthiness to have the covenant made with him alone.  For though the previous oath suffices, it is an additional benefit to their descendants that each Patriarch’s merit combines with that of the other two.  Thus, it is to this distinction that God refers when He says (Lev 26:42): I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember, and the Land will I also remember.

26:4  “I will increase your offspring like the stars of the heavens;”   –  Abarbanel suggests that this verse amplifies the previous one, the implication being: Lest you wonder how as a small number of people like your family will be able to take possession of all these lands, know that first, I will increase your offspring like the stars of the heavens and then I will give to your offspring all these lands.

“and I will give to your offspring all these lands;”  –  Compare this to the promise to Abraham in 13:15: For all the land that you see, to you will I give it, and to your descendants forever.  Also compare the additional promises of the land in 12:7, 13:6, 9; 15:7, 18; and 24:7.

In using the term, to your offspring, God alluded to His promise to Abraham in 21:12 where He declared that only part of Isaac’s offspring would be considered offspring of Abraham to qualify for the heritage of the land.  Thus the descendants of both Ishmael and Esau were excluded.

”,,And all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your offspring.”  –  God was now also intimating that the blessing to Abraham that all the nations of the earth will bless themselves by his offspring (22:18) would now be realized in Isaac himself.  It was later reiterated to Jacob (28:14).  (Ramban)

26:5  “Because Abraham obeyed My voice,..”  –  God did not want him to think that all these blessings were granted only to induce him not to descend to Egypt.  They were already decreed in Abraham’s days as the consequence of one thing:  Abraham obeyed My voice.

“..and safeguarded My Ordinances,..”  –  Hirsch explains it as a general term stating our obligation toward the Torah transmitted to us from God.  It is a treasure which we are to guard and use according to the Will of it’s Owner.  This involved two duties: (1) the positive one of study and care to fulfill its obligations and precepts; (2) to institute such protective ordinances as are necessary and desirable to prevent the violation of its laws.

“  My Commandments,..”  Such as those laws which the moral sense would have enacted even if they were not written in the Torah.  (Rashi) Which also includes all God had commanded him:  to leave home (12:1), sacrifice his son (22:1), and expel Hagar and her son (21:12).

”..My Decrees..”  –  Laws which our Evil Inclinations and heathen nations would promptly disagree with, for example the prohibition against eating swine’s flesh, and the wearing of shaatnez (garments made of a mixture of linen and wool) – laws for which reason can provide no explanation, and which are thus, as it were, royal decrees enacted on His subjects.  (Rashi)

“..and My Torahs.”  The word Torah is usually derived from the word “teaching”.   The plural number of “Torahs” – both of written and the Oral – which includes those rules and interpretations transmitted to Moses at Sinai.  (Rashi)

26:6  “So Isaac settled in Gerar.”  –  For though Abimelech made no offers of assistance as Isaac had hoped he would, nevertheless Isaac trusted in God’s promise and took up permanent residence there.  (Ha’amek Davar)

26:7  “When the men of the place asked about his wife..”  – Abimelech, because of his covenant with Abraham, showed Isaac no malice.  It was the residents who inquired out of curiosity about the identity of the woman he was with.  (Ramban)

“..he said, “She is my sister.”  – Ramban, in expounding on the episode of Abraham in Egypt (12:11), suggests that from the time he had left Charan, Abraham commonly identified Sarah as his sister, because he knew they would often find themselves in strange and dangerous surroundings (20:13).  The Torah mentioned this strategy only on the two occasions that something unusual happened.  Isaac, on the other hand, felt secure in his own surroundings, and had no need for the ruse.  Only when he came to the land of the Philistines did he adopt his father’s plan.

“..’Lest the men of the place kill me because of Rebecca.”  – As Abraham explained to Abimelech nearly a century earlier (20:11): There is but no fear of God in this place.”  It would not be beyond them therefore to slay him because of his wife, for only the fear of God acts as a deterrent to unrestrained lust.  Thus, although Abraham doubtless told Isaac of all the occurred, Isaac, too, could expect no safety in a place where there is no fear of God.  This apparently motivated him to repeat the scenario, and resort to the same device.

26:8  “..Abimelech,..gazed down.. and saw Isaac was jesting with his wife Rebecca.”   – All commentators agree that the term – jesting – which is the same term used of Ishmael in 21:9 – is, a euphemism for intimate relations (Rashi); physical closeness (Chizkuni); or at least undue familiarity which would be inappropriate between brother and sister (Abarbanel).

26:9  “..Because I was apprehensive that I would be killed because of her.”  – Isaac could not offer the rationale given by Abraham; that she was indeed his ‘sister’; or that he always claimed her as his sister when he arrived at a new place and did not yet know the nature of the people.  This, then was the only response he could honestly give to defend his action.

26:10  “One of the people has nearly lain with your wife….and you would have brought guilt down upon us.”  – We would all have been punished on your account, for you are great and beloved of God.  (Radak)

26:11  “Abimelech then warned..”  – Abimelech realized that no husband of a beautiful woman was safe in his land, and therefore found it necessary to assure Isaac’s safety by issuing a royal decree on Isaac’s behalf.  What a testimony this bears to vindicate Isaac’s initial apprehensions when entering this Godless country.

“Whoever molests this man or his wife shall surely die.”  – This exemplified God’s beneficent Providence.  Not only did Abimelech not become vindictive against Isaac for his deception, but he went so far as to issue the proclamation, to protect him and did not even expel him from his land.  (Malbim).

26:12  “Isaac sowed the land and in that year he reaped..”  – In that land and in that year – a difficult year of drought.  As the Midrash notes, the verses emphasizes the miraculous nature of Isaac’s prosperity against two obstacles: the soil was hard, and the year was generally unfavorable.  (Rashi)

“..a hundredfold:”  – Rabbi Yitzchak Vorkei commented homiletically that God was pleased with Isaac for working the land in spite of the drought.  Because he did so, God was able to provide for him in the natural way.  Had Isaac not engaged in working his fields, however, God would have had to perform obvious miracles to provide for him.  As his reward, God blessed him with hundred-fold prosperity.

Because Isaac did not selfishly hoard the crop until the price went up in that famine-stricken year, but instead brought it generously to the markets and used his blessing for the general good, he became recognized as the an blessed by God.

26:13  “The man prospered and continually flourished until he was very prosperous.”  – The Dubna Maggid comments that this verse implies that Isaac’s prosperity came upon him in a natural manner, gradually increasing by the day, rather than in one great thrust.  The gradual nature of his growing prosperity was part of God’s blessing because the sudden acquisition of great wealth presents a person with exceedingly difficult challenges.  Many people cannot cope with the temptation that wealth brings within their grasp.  As God saw that Isaac could handle increasing wealth, He kept giving him more.  (Yalkut Yehudah)

26:14  “..and the Philistines envied him.”  – He was especially hated by those who lived in Gerar, the capital city.  Presumably many wealthy persons resided in the capital; one rich man is envious of another, particularly if the latter is a Jew.  (Ha’amek Davar)

Hirsch believes that their envy was directed more at the man than the riches.  They felt themselves threatened by the position and respect that his wealth brought him.

26:15  “All the wells that his father’s servants had dug…the Philistines…filled them with dirt.”  – There are many thoughts on when the wells had been stopped and filled with dirt.  However, regardless of when, it must be emphasized that the Philistines thereby desecrated the covenant Abimelech made with Abraham (21:27).

26:16  “..for you have become much mightier than we.”  – In spite of the fact that Isaac sowed that land with his own seed and received in that year of drought a hundredfold, and that he enriched himself by his own toil and the blessing of God and not by exploiting any other man, Abimelech accused him of deriving his wealth from him and his citizens.  *Akeidas Yitzchak)

26:17  “…and encamped in the valley of Gerar.”  – Radak and Ramban suggest the place was called Gerar Valley which was not part of Abimelech’s domain although it was in Philistine land, or that possibly the valley by that name extended from Gerar to another land.

26:18  “..and he called them the same names that his father had called them.”  – HaKsav V’haKaballah suggests that Abraham had carefully given his wells names that would evoke recognition of the supremacy of the One God and draw people near Him.  Thus, we find that the Patriarchs used names like Hashem Yireh, Beth El, Hashem Nisi, LaChai Ro’I – in order to evoke God’s Name to passersby who would stop to drink at their wells.  People would then be engaged in conversation and persuaded to abandon their idolatry and believe in the Creator.

Therefore, the Philistines who reverted to their idolatrous ways after Abraham’s death stopped up the wells in order to eradicate evidence of Abraham’s religion. 

That is why Isaac made it a point to reestablish the significance of the wells by returning to them their original names.

According to R’Bachya, Isaac’s motivation was one of respect for his father.  There is a great moral lesson in the fact that the Torah informs us of this meritorious act.  It serves to teach us to what lengths one must go not to deviate from his father’s ways since Isaac did not even wish to change the names that his father had given wells.  This exemplifies the scrupulous manner in which the Patriarchs conducted their lives.  Perhaps it was in the merit of this loyalty to his father’s choice of names that Isaac was the only Patriarch whose own name was not changed.

26:19 The Dispute over the wells.   “..and found a well of fresh water.”  – After digging they uncovered an earlier well flowing with living water.  That is why the verse speaks of finding a well rather than finding water.  (Radak)

26:20  “The water is ours!”  – Philistine law provided that everything – even the underground – belonged to the king, while Isaac’s herdsmen claimed that the waters of the deep should be considered ownerless and become the property of anyone who discovers them.  (Malbim).

They quibbled in the exact style that had been used against the Jews in Exile throughout the centuries: ‘Yes, you dug the well; the hole belongs to you, but the water is ours!”  (Hirsch)

26:22  “He relocated from there..”  – In order to remove himself from conflict, he moved to a place where the residents were not so wicked.  By moving he also made certain that he would no longer be in an area where they could contend that he was digging in their land.  (HaGadol, Haamek Davar, Radak)

“For now Hashem has granted us ample space and we can be fruitful in the land.”  – Hashem’s Name is now mentioned because of the positive aspects of this venture.  (Akeidas Yitzchak)  They can now thrive without hindrance or discord.  (Radak)

26:23 Isaac Returns to Beer Sheba  – The significance of the following narrative impresses that in the more central area of Eretz Yisrael which was the heritage of Isaac’s descendants, Isaac lived in security and was not harassed by the local populace as he was in Gerar which, though also technically part of the Promised Land, would not be conquered by his descendants until future times.  (Radak)

26:24  “I am the God of your father Abraham.  Fear not, for I am with you..”  – God’s promise of being ‘with’ the Patriarchs is an affirmation of His Providence in watching over the details of their various activities according to the measure of their perfection, as noted in the commentary of verse 3 “I will be with you”.

The fulfillment of this assurance can be recognized in the following episode.  Providence influenced Abimelech to show Isaac even greater honor than he had shown Abraham, for, when he came to conclude a treaty with Isaac he was accomplished by Pichol.  (Ramban)

“I will bless you … because of Abraham my servant.”  – The blessing will come to you by merit of your father Abraham which abides by you in This World.  It is your own merit however, as a righteous son of a righteous father, which will secure you your place in the World to Come.  (Midrash HaGadol)

26:25  “He built an altar there,”  – To acknowledge God’s beneficence and express gratitude for the prophecy God had just given him, as Abraham did in 12:7 and 13:18.  (Abarbanel)

After God’s earlier revelation in verse 3, however, Isaac made no such open display of gratitude because he was afraid to publicize that he had been promised the lands of his neighbors, lest he arouse their enmity, for Isaac has been a wholesome man (25:27) who had never engaged in warfare.   Because this blessing was more general, however, he had no fears of publicizing it, so he built an altar.  It was to this prophetic revelation that Abimelech later referred when he said (v28): We have indeed seen that Hashem has been with you.  (Meshech Chochmah)

“..there Isaac’s servants began digging a well.”  – This was the well he subsequently named Shibah when, after Abimelech departed, his servants apprised him that they had completed digging it.  (v32)  (Rashbam)

26:26  Abimelech’s Visit – The Reaffirmation of the Treaty.  Abimelech went to him from Gerar with a group of friends and Pichol.  Either Pichol was his name, or it was a title descriptive of his military position which the Midrash here interprets to mean: the mouth, responsible for the weapons of all Abimelech’s troops.

26:27  “Why have you come to me?”  – Isaac’s cynical reception is certainly motivated by a common sense appraisal of Abimelech’s credibility.  This very same Philistine king – or his father; it does not really matter – came in great urgency to Abraham and made a treaty with him that was to last for generations.  But the king does not find it feasible to make proper arrangements for his covenant-brother’s son even in time of famine, and the king’s servants even stopped up his wells.  This made it plain that a pact with Philistines was useless, and Isaac reacted to their overtures accordingly.  (Abarbanel)

26:28  “We have indeed seen that Hashem has been with you,..”  – We saw it with your father, and we have seen it with you also (Rashi); and glorious is the son who fills the role of his father!  (Pesikta Zutresa)

“Let the oath between ourselves now be between us and you,..”  – The translation follows Rashi and Rashbam who interpret the gesture as suggesting that the oath which had existed between ourselves since the days of your father, now be renewed between us and you.

“And let us make a covenant with you.”  – They were apprehensive – not that Isaac himself constituted a military threat to them – but that his descendants might not consider themselves bound by the pact.  They had violated the covenant with Abraham and they were apprehensive that Isaac would retaliate by annulling his part of the covenant.  His descendants would thus be free to drive Abimelech’s descendants from the land.  Therefore, they excused themselves and emphasized that not only did they not annul the previous covenant, but they have done him only good!  It is conceivable, however, that they recalled Abraham’s God-given military successes against the four kings (Chapter 14), and they were afraid that Isaac, too, would be able to defeat them since such an action would require a much smaller force.  They might also have heard of the prophecy that God had promised the land to Abraham and feared that by expelling Isaac from the land, they might have aroused his ill will and he was harboring thoughts of retaliation.  (Ramban v29)

26:29  “..just as we have done with you only good, and sent you away in peace…”   The Midrash perceives the hypocrisy of those gentile nations who insist that Israel was indebted to them merely because of their ‘benevolence’ in allowing Israel to dwell among them unmolested.

     The Midrash cites the parable of a wild lion that killed an animal and a bone stuck in his throat.  He was unable to find any animal willing to extract it.  He then promised to amply reward anyone who removes the bone.

     A long-necked stork came.  It placed its head in the lion’s mouth and pulled out the offending bone.  When he demanded his reward, the lion said, ‘What?  You want a reward too?  Go!  It is reward enough for you that you will be able to go about and boast that you put your head into a lion’s mouth and came out in peace unscathed!’

26:30  “He made them a feast and they ate and drank.”  – Since gentlemen partake of a meal after concluding a transaction, Isaac prepared the feast to consummate the mutual acceptance of the pact.  (Radak and Tur)

26:31  “The awoke early in the morning..”  – Specifically in the morning, after they had slept off the effects of the dinner wine so that no one could claim that the oath was undertaken in anything less than an alert, sober state.  (Torah Sheleimah, 126 note)

“..and swore to one another.”  – According to Pirkei d/Rabbi Eliezer 31, the covenant stipulated that Isaac’s descendants would not take possession of the land of the Philistines.

To ratify the covenant, Isaac cut off a cubit of the bridle-rein of the donkey he was riding and gave it to them as a token of the covenant and oath between them.

Centuries later, when David became king and wished to enter the land of the Philistines, he was prevented from doing so because of this symbol of the covenant’s ratification.  He remained unable to enter until he first took from them this sign of Isaac’s oath, as it is written: David struck the Philistines and subdued them; and David took the cubit of the bridle-rein out of the hand of the Philistines.

They swore not to harass each other’s descendants, but the Philistines violated the oath when they warred against Israel in the days of the Judges and King Saul.  (Midrash Or HaAfeilah)

26:32  “And it was on that very day..”  – While Abimelech was still with Isaac; this newly discovered prosperity was another sign of God’s Providential beneficence toward Isaac so that the Philistine nobles should be impressed and stand in awe of him.  (Radak)

“..and they had told him about the well they had dug,..”  – They had begun digging the well before Abimelech came (v. 25) and they had now finished digging.  On the day of his departure they came to Isaac with the news that they found water.  (Ramban)

“We have found water!”  – Without strife or quarreling, Thus was Isaac’s every effort successful in Eretz Yisrael.  (Radak)

26:33  “…forty years old..”  – So was it with Esau: For forty years he had been living an immoral life – enticing married women from their husbands – and when he reached the age of forty he hypocritically said that he would follow the example of his father who married at that age.  (see 25:20)

“…Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite.”  – Hittite is mentioned to emphasize that Isaac was not as careful as was his father in seeing that his son married a fitting wife, or that he not marry a Hittite (Canaanite).  (Sforno)

But the punishment for the failure to oversee their sons’ activity came quick: Esau’s wife immediately proved to be a source of spiritual rebellion and introduced idolatrous practices into the house to the utter frustration of Isaac and Rebecca.  (Hoffmann)

Ibn Ezra suggests that Esau had no children from Judith and she is therefore not mentioned with his other wives in the listing of his genealogy (36:2).

“..and Basemath, daughter of Elon the Hittite.”  – With this marriage, accordingly, Esau set the seal on his complete unfitness to be the one who was to carry on the mission of Abraham.  In a home ruled by two Hittite women, the Abrahamitic ideal lays buried.  (Hirsch)

26:35  “…a source of spiritual rebellion..”  – Targum Yonasan renders: “They set themselves to rebel in their evil conduct against Isaac and Rebecca”.

They were in complete opposition to the spirit that dominated Isaac and Rebecca.  (Hirsch)

“ Isaac and to Rebecca.”  – Sforno notes that despite Esau’s brazenness in marrying such women and in not controlling their idolatrous behavior, Isaac still refused to recognize the evil nature of his son.  As a result, he wished to bless him and even after having conferred the blessings on Jacob, Isaac blessed Esau to a certain extent.  As a result, Jacob had to flee, and his descendants suffer from Esau’s offspring to this day.  Thus, these verses are a prelude to the next chapter.

Hirsch, too, sees this episode as setting the stage for the blessings.  Esau’s wives were in total contradiction to the feelings and principles of Isaac and Rebecca.  Significantly Isaac is mentioned first: even the loving father was repelled by the behavior of his daughters-in-law.

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