Category Archives: Toldot

El secreto judío para el éxito

Netziv Génesis: Toldot

El secreto judío para el éxito

“La educación es un adorno en la prosperidad y un refugio en la adversidad.” -Aristóteles

Sin duda hay pocas naciones en la historia del mundo que han invertido más en la educación de su pueblo que la nación judía. Educación judía es la razón de nuestra extraordinaria supervivencia y el éxito a pesar de milenios de discriminación y persecución.

Por lo tanto, es a la vez triste e irónico que en las últimas décadas, después de todo este tiempo, el pueblo judío (en su conjunto) haya suavizado o abandonado por completo su relación con los textos y la tradición judía. Es aún más irónico considerar que esos mismos textos que atesoramos, por los que luchamos y por los que morimos, están ahora siendo buscados y enseñados por otros en países como Corea del Sur a las poblaciones gentiles, donde Talmud es aparentemente un interés creciente.

La Torá relata como nuestro antepasado Isaac encuentra el éxito económico durante su estancia en la tierra de Canaán. El Netziv en Génesis 26:5 explica que el éxito de Isaac fue un resultado directo de su educación, siguiendo los pasos y la orientación de su padre Abraham. El Netziv aprende del ejemplo de Isaac que el estudio y la práctica de la Torá, de la ley y la tradición judía, conduce al éxito en los negocios.

Vamos a abrir esos libros y conectarnos con la fuente del verdadero éxito.

Shabat Shalom



a todos mis alumnos en mis diversas clases de Torá. Es un honor y un privilegio enseñarles y estoy enriquecido por ello.

The Jewish Secret to Success

[First posted on The Times of Israel at:]

Netziv Genesis: Toldot

The Jewish Secret to Success

“Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity.” –Aristotle

There are undoubtedly few nations in the history of the world that have invested more in the education of its people than the Jewish nation. Jewish education is by most accounts the reason for our extraordinary survival and success despite millennia of discrimination and persecution.

It is therefore both sad and ironic that in recent decades, after all this time, the Jewish people (as a whole) have either watered-down or completely abandoned their connection to Jewish texts and tradition. It is even more ironic to consider that those very same texts that we treasured, fought for, and even died for, are now being sought after and taught by others in countries like South Korea to gentile populations, where Talmud is apparently a growing interest.

The Torah recounts how our forefather Isaac encounters wild economic success during his sojourn in the land of Canaan. The Netziv on Genesis 26:5 explains that Isaac’s success was a direct result of his education, following in the footsteps and guidance of his father Abraham. The Netziv learns from Isaac’s example that study and practice of Torah, of Jewish law and tradition, leads to business success.

Let’s open up those books and connect to the source of true success.

Shabbat Shalom,



To all of my students in my various Torah classes. It is an honor and a privilege to teach you and I am enriched by it.

Hunter’s Deception

[First posted on The Times of Israel at:]

Ibn Ezra Genesis: Toldot

Hunter’s Deception

To hunt skillfully, one must master deception. To lay a hidden trap, to conceal an ambush, to wait until the right moment to strike, all require subterfuge and the art of tricking ones victim into believing the situation is safe, secure, calm, when in fact it is imminently deadly.

The Bible, in introducing the sons of Isaac – Esau and Jacob, tells us that Esau was a hunter. Ibn Ezra (on Genesis 25:27) explains that it is coming to highlight Esau’s deceptive nature. For Esau it was easy to lie, to lure prey into his clutches, to disguise himself, to blend into the foliage when necessary. He had the capacity to attack at a moment’s notice, to kill his quarry. The Rabbis from the very outset deride such predatory characteristics.

As a contrast, Jacob is depicted as a mild, scholarly, tent-dwelling shepherd, not cut out for the hunt, for deception, for subterfuge. It is therefore the ultimate irony that Esau is tricked out of his ostensibly deserved blessing by his otherwise honest brother.

That sincere Jacob disguised himself, pretended to be Esau, lied to their father and thereby robbed the blessing from Esau the deceiver, could only have been utterly humiliating to a skilled hunter such as Esau.

Deceivers and hunters, watch out. The honest ones are the most dangerous.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the Israeli leadership and security forces that hunted and killed one of the more damaging enemies of Israel. May they continue to do so.

Culinary Love

Ohr Hachayim Genesis: Toldot

Culinary Love

You may not have realized it, but we are descendants of chefs. Our ancestors had a love of food and its preparation. While ancient man may have constantly been preoccupied with the preparation of their next meal, it seems our Patriarchs were particularly passionate about the taste and quality of their repast.

The Rabbis state that Esau was a regular provider of food to his father Isaac, hence the request that Esau provide a special meal so that Isaac may bless him. There is also the famous scene of Jacob preparing a meal and Esau, his brother, trading his Firstborn status for some “red soup.”

The Ohr Hachayim (Genesis 25:29) explains that Jacob had been preparing the meal for Isaac, their father. Jacob saw that Esau’s meals for his father developed a special bond between Isaac and Esau, and Jacob may have sought to replicate such an effect.

They would agree that a way to a man’s heart certainly passes through his stomach.

May we appreciate all the chefs in our lives and grow closer through the joy of meals together.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Thanksgiving (to those who celebrate it),



To our wonderful hosts and friends for a fantastic celebratory dinner.

Beware the Carnivore

Kli Yakar Genesis: Toldot

Beware the Carnivore

This is difficult for me to write. I like meat. There are few morally and legally permissible pleasures that are as savory as the smell of freshly grilled meat. However the Kli Yakar seems to frown on the practice.

Last year I wrote how the Hizkuni gives us a carte blanche on the consumption of (kosher) meat (see Carnivores Unite! piece). The Kli Yakar on the other hand seems to have had clear vegetarian inclinations.

He starts with an analysis of Isaac requesting meat from Esau for the blessing (Genesis 27:3). He claims that the eating of meat was a rarity, reserved for holidays and special occasions. He then explains what is wrong with the regular consumption of the dead flesh of animals.

Only predatory animals eat meat. Predatory animals have the traits of savagery, viciousness and callousness to the loss of life. The Kli Yakar argues that if we eat too much meat, we may also develop such traits.

He then quotes the prophet Isaiah, who predicts that in the End of Days, the very nature of the world may change and we may all, predators included, no longer seek meat:

“And the lion as the cattle shall eat straw.” Isaiah 11:7.  For there shall be peace in the world amongst all creatures. Kli Yakar Genesis 27:3.

May we enjoy our steaks when and where appropriate and perhaps cut down on the cholesterol.

Shabbat Shalom,



To all my vegetarian friends. I think you’re on to something, and respect you for your restraint. (I’m still going to Burger’s Bar though, while I can.)

Book Review: Jacob’s Family Dynamics

Jacob's Family Dynamics (book cover)Jacob’s Family Dynamics: Climbing the Rungs of the Ladder

Gad Dishi

Devora Publishing, 2009

Reviewed by Ben-Tzion Spitz

If you have any interest in the Bible, Rabbi Gad Dishi’s new book, “Jacob’s Family Dynamics” is a must-read. A warning is in order though. Dishi rips apart many long-held stereotypical images of the Patriarch Jacob and his relationships. He then puts them back together in often innovative, insightful and even brilliant ways.

What is beautiful and inspiring about Dishi’s work is the weaving of a mostly fragmented narrative of the stories of Jacob into a fluid, consistent and comprehensive picture. Many students of the classical commentaries will want to jump down Dishi’s throat as he repeatedly negates or contradicts centuries-old interpretations. However, they will find it a challenging battle. The strength of Dishi’s book is his extreme adherence to the text.

Dishi makes Jacob very human, contrary to the often superhuman depiction that classical commentaries portrayed him as. Dishi justifies the dichotomy in his introduction:

“The human element brings readers back to the Bible repeatedly to experience the characters’ dramatic, real-life choices, while the superhuman approach draws readers to the text to be inspired once more by the perfection of the characters’ personal attributes. Thus, from a religious perspective, both approaches have validity and can operate in parallel, each appealing to a different audience.”

The analysis is based on a laser-like focus on each phrase, word and language nuance. He builds the personas and action of the stories based on these careful readings. At the same time he keeps an eye on the big picture and the continuum of Jacob’s life, actions, fears, insecurities, needs and driving forces. The scenes that are covered in detail include (but are not limited to):

–          Jacob’s impersonation of Esau to obtain Isaac’s blessing;

–          Jacob’s arrival at Haran and his meeting of Rachel;

–          The switch of Leah for Rachel on the wedding night and Jacob’s response;

–          The competition of Leah and Rachel for Jacob’s affection;

–          Laban’s confrontation with Jacob at Gilead;

–          Jacob’s reunion/confrontation with Esau;

–          Jacob’s reaction to the rape of Dinah;

–          The burial of Rachel.

What emerges is a very human, and perhaps because of that, a very heroic (and also tragic) figure of Jacob. Dishi also presents Jacob’s family members (parents, brother, father-in-law, wives and sons) as characters that seem truer to the biblical text than what many other commentaries paint.

Just one example of Dishi’s original interpretations can be found in his analysis of Jacob’s stimulus in stealing Esau’s blessing. Dishi explains that Jacob was the initiator of the deception conspiracy as opposed to his mother, Rebecca. Furthermore, he argues that Jacob’s motivation had less to do with achieving some still unknown blessing from his father, but rather to be the recipient of fatherly love and attention via this blessing before Isaac’s death.

Dishi consistently uses a plethora of commentators both classical and modern to support his points. The pure erudition required to create this masterpiece is impressive, besides the excellence of his theories themselves.

Dishi successfully pulls off another feat. That of writing a scholarly work that will be accessible to the layman. The language is never too heavy or difficult. The prose is clear and flows. Even the extensive footnotes are fun and enlightening. It is as if one was sitting next to Dishi while he is typing and he shares yet another brilliant and related nugget of information or insight.

There is a special treat in Chapter 7 of a pair of color maps and pictures that delightfully illustrate Dishi’s explanation of what really happened in the preparation and encounter of Jacob and Esau after their twenty year separation.

There are two minor flaws in this diamond of a book. Both can be attributed to the Herculean task of attempting to write for the two very different worlds of the layman and the biblical scholar in one volume. Dishi explains in a footnote of the first chapter that he uses the translation of Robert Alter’s The Five Books of Moses. He then repeatedly cites him in much of the subsequent translation in the footnotes, which is presumably the scholarly thing to do. However, it is a minor annoyance in the otherwise entertaining footnotes.

The second and perhaps more significant flaw for biblical scholars (but one that they may enjoy finding and pouncing on), are the cases where Dishi continues his theories with limited substantiation or support. From a layman’s point-of-view the theories still hold. They are compelling – even convincing at points. An analogy that comes to mind is a skater approaching a patch of thin ice. The skater takes advantage of the solid ice to forcefully propel himself as quickly as possible over the thinner section.

Because Dishi has done such a superb and persuasive job in the highly detailed and corroborated sections, one is more willing to go along for the ride and follow where Dishi leads.

It is hard to believe that there could be surprises left in a biblical narrative that is so well known to many. Dishi however keeps the suspense and the original interpretations flowing, from the first to the last chapter.

Jacob’s Family Dynamics should be part of the library of every Jewish home. It should also become required reading for any Bible/Genesis course from high school level to post-graduate degrees.

In Jacob’s Family Dynamics Dishi has set a new standard for reading of biblical text. A student of the Bible will not be able to look at Jacob or at the text the same way again.

Dishi hopes in his introduction “that Jacob’s Family Dynamics will lift the habitual blinders that have subdued the full power of the text.” In this he has succeeded admirably.

The book can be ordered directly from the publisher (discounted) at

Ben-Tzion Spitz is an engineer, Bible studies writer and lecturer. He has started a series of Biblical Fiction short stories which can be viewed at

Rebecca’s Crisis

Genesis: Toldot


Isaac blessing disguised Jacob

[Listen to the podcast below]


Rebecca’s Crisis

The words of the prophecy rang in Rebecca’s head. Since before the birth of the twins she held those mysterious words in her heart. They had done nothing to console her pain, only fueling her confusion and apprehension. She looked towards the entrance to blind Isaac’s tent anxiously, the words reverberating in her mind:


“Two peoples are in your womb;

two nations from your insides shall be separated;

one nation shall strengthen over the other nation,

and the Elder shall serve the Younger.”


Rebecca could not bear the tension much longer. Esau, her eldest, was approaching blind Isaac’s tent, but after what seemed like an eternity, Jacob, young, sweet Jacob, had not yet exited.

She sat discretely and quietly outside Isaac’s tent. Esau brusquely opened the flap of the tent and strode in, but still there was no Jacob. Rebecca held her breath for the imminent explosion. She knew Esau’s temper. Esau would immediately understand Jacob’s impersonating him, and the charade would be over. The blessings might indeed turn to a curse as Jacob feared, perhaps even violently so.

Then from within the fold of the tent Jacob silently stepped out unnoticed and left the area.

Thank You, God. Rebecca thought to herself with great relief. Jacob received the blessing that Isaac intended for Esau, undiscovered.

Esau’s growing agitation was heard clearly from outside. The confusion emanating from the tent was palpable. And then she heard a blood-curling scream.

“Nooooooo!!!” Esau moaned.

What have I done? Rebecca asked herself.

She could not believe her ears. Her strong, forceful son, Esau, started crying. A bitter, deep cry that cut her to the bone. “Have you but one blessing, Father?” Esau pleaded, “Bless me too. Father!”

I am sorry my son. Rebecca told herself. I had no choice. The prophecy must be fulfilled. You are truly not worthy to succeed Isaac. “The Elder shall serve the Younger.”

Isaac bestowed some makeshift blessing on Esau. Esau left his father’s tent in a furry, with murder on his mind. The blood drained from Rebecca’s face when she caught a glimpse of his eyes.

He will kill my Jacob. I must warn him. I must get Jacob away from here.

There were a few minutes of silence in the tent, as Isaac composed himself.

“Rebecca, my wife.” Isaac called out. “I know you can hear me. Please come in.”

Rebecca gracefully entered the tent and knelt on one knee beside her sightless husband.

“Yes, my husband.”

“Please sit, my dearest.”

“Thank you, Isaac.”

“Rebecca, I know you orchestrated this deception. Why did you not discuss with me?” Isaac asked in a pained voice.

Rebecca was prepared for this moment. I must break the news to him gently. Isaac loves Esau so. He is blind to Esau’s evil, to his anger and fury. I myself do not know where it comes from.

“Would you have listened to my words?”

“You are wise and kind-hearted. Your words are always of great value.”

That is his polite way of saying no. I was right to deceive him. I must tread carefully. I must protect Jacob so he will fulfill the birthright. “The Elder shall serve the Younger.”

“Esau is not the innocent that you imagine. He is not worthy of continuing your traditions.”

“He is the Elder. He is a man of the world. It requires a certain roughness. A capacity for leadership. Esau possesses these attributes. Even more than I do. And more than Jacob.”

He does not see. He does not understand. He is justifying his blind love for Esau. He should understand by now.

“Nonetheless, my darling. He can be cruel, even wicked.” Rebecca retorted. “This is not our way. It is not your way. It is not what your father Abraham would have wanted.”

“So now my love, you are the interpreter of my father’s traditions?” Isaac asked with some incredulity.

I must try a different angle. I must bring some proof and move him to action. He will not be persuaded with unverified accusations.

“Look at Esau’s wives. They are idol worshipers! I am disgusted with my life on account of these daughters of Heth.” Rebecca stated vehemently. “If Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth like these, of the daughters of the land, why should I live?”

Isaac was taken aback by Rebecca’s ferocity. For the third time in one day, he found himself confused and disoriented, surprised by each encounter, yet feeling greater revelation at each. He did not respond, but leaned forward, looking at nothing, pensively.

Isaac could perceive God’s hand heavily involved in the day’s events. Isaac had always presumed that Esau was the correct choice, yet God had clearly intervened. Jacob had shown great courage and skill in impersonating Esau.

And the blessing held. Isaac had felt the Divine Presence endorse the blessing. Jacob is truly blessed now. There must be some validity to the claimed sale of Esau’s birthright to Jacob. The more Isaac thought about it, the more he realized that Rebecca was right. As much as it pained him, he realized Esau was not the one – it would be Jacob. The Elder shall serve the Younger.

Rebecca looked at Isaac’s flowing features. His face seemed to contort with the emotions of his thoughts. Have I pushed him too hard? How do we get past this?

Esau was too rough, Isaac thought. Esau however showed such tremendous respect to Isaac that it was a pleasure to have him around. The strong, confident, fearless son had been Isaac’s hope for the future. But it was not to be. God had indicated as much.

Isaac held out his right hand to Rebecca. Instinctively Rebecca placed her hand in his. Isaac covered her hand with his left hand and gently caressed it.

“Love of my life,” Isaac said softly, “why has it come to this? Why must you manipulate and scheme behind my back? Is there no trust between us? Is there no trust left in this family? In the descendents of Abraham?”

Small tears started to roll down Rebecca’s face.

Oh Isaac. I love you so much! How do I explain my deception? How do I tell you about the secret prophecy I have carried for so long? How do I show you what you refuse to see?

“Despite our instructions and efforts, Esau has taken an evil path.” Rebecca said softly. “It breaks my heart to see it. But we must remember our mission. We cannot forsake the God of your father and the kindness and goodness that he directs. Jacob is the one that will follow your path. The blessings you have now bestowed confirm that. Now we need to ensure he marries properly to have the next generation to transmit to.”

“You have not answered my question.” Isaac said as he tenderly wiped the tears he could not see from Rebecca’s cheek. “Do you think I am so blind that I do not know my own children?”

Stubborn. Stubborn. He is focusing on the charade and not on what we need to do next. He has been deeply offended by the deception.

“I am sorry.” Rebecca answered. “I did not see another way. Esau has always been your favorite. I did not believe you would change your mind just on my saying so. I could not take a chance that the wrong child would receive your blessing.”

“What about trust? How can there be love, how can there be marriage or a relationship without trust?” And now it was Isaac who shed tears.

He is in so much pain. Please God, help me! I do not know what to say anymore.

Isaac and Rebecca sat quietly, holding each other’s hands.

“It is God’s will.” Isaac announced. “Perhaps my blindness is not only physical. This issue of the children has divided us for some time. We should never have chosen favorites.”

Yes. Now you begin to understand.

“I showed too much affection and understanding towards Esau.” Isaac continued. “The acts of the fathers are a sign for the sons. It seems I have repeated the mistake of another.”

Just as Abraham accepted and justified Yishmael’s behavior, you have turned a blind eye to Esau’s.

“Isaac, we have both made mistakes,” Rebecca explained her hand still in his, “let us learn from them but not harp on them. Please do not doubt my commitment and dedication and love of you. I will do whatever is necessary to fulfill your life’s work. Even if it means deceiving you or hiding things from you.”

Isaac faced her with his sightless eyes. “It must have been very difficult for you. You were very strong and brave to engineer and accomplish the ruse.”

Thank You, God. He understands!

Isaac and Rebecca embraced and held each on to each other silently. A chasm of many years had finally been bridged.

“Let us call for Jacob.” Isaac stated. “I will reconfirm blessings to him knowing his full identity. I will direct him to find wives from your family and not from the daughters of the land.”

Thank You, God! Thank You, Thank You. Thank You. My mission is set and my love has returned to me.

* * * * * *


“His eyesight dimmed” Genesis 27:1. By justifying the behavior of the wicked Esau, he caused his eyes to become dim, for ‘a bribe blinds the yes of the wise’ Exodus 23:8 (and Isaac is viewed as having taken a bribe from Esau). Bereshit Rabbah 65:5

Rebecca escorted Jacob as far as Isaac’s door and said, “I have done all that I can for you. Henceforth your Creator will stand by you.” Bereshit Rabbah 65:17

Isaac’s initial blessing (to disguised Jacob):

“And may God give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth, and abundant grain and wine. Peoples will serve you, and regimes will prostrate themselves to you; be a lord to your kinsmen, and your mother’s sons will prostrate themselves to you; cursed be they who curse you, and blessed be they who bless you.”

Genesis 27:28-29

“Jacob had scarcely left.” Genesis 27:30. The doors folded back. Jacob stood behind the door until Esau entered; then he left. Bereshit Rabbah 66:5

Rebecca tells Jacob: “It will be incumbent upon me to enter and tell your father, ‘Jacob is righteous and Esau is wicked’ “ Bereshit Rabbah 65:14; Eitz Yosef

Isaac’s reaction to Esau’s entry:

“Then Isaac trembled in very great perplexity, and said, “Who – where – is the one who hunted game, brought it to me, and I partook of all when you had not yet come, and I blessed him? Indeed, he shall remain blessed!”

When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me too, Father!”

But he said, “Your brother came with cleverness and took your blessing.”

Genesis 27:33-35

When Isaac sought to bless Esau, he did not know that Esau had embarked on a career of wickedness. When Esau’s deeds were revealed to him, Isaac trembled in fear of the Day of Judgment. Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 32:68

“Isaac was seized with terror” Genesis 27:33. Greater than his terror on the altar. He said, “Who is it that became a middleman between the Holy One, Blessed is He, and me so that Jacob would take the blessings?” He said this about Rebecca. Bereshit Rabbah 67:2

God revealed to Isaac after the fact that the blessing was meant for Jacob. Bereshit Rabbah 67:2

“Now Esau harbored hatred toward Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau thought, “The days of mourning for my father draw near, then I will kill my brother Jacob.” Genesis 27:41

“Rebecca was told of the words of Esau.” Genesis 27:42. Who told her? Divine Inspiration. Shocher Tov 105:4

Rebecca did not wish to tell Isaac that Jacob’s life was in danger, so she used the unsuitability of the Hittite women as a pretext for sending him away. Rashbam Genesis 27:46

“I am disgusted with my life on account of the daughters of Heth” Genesis 27:46. She expressed herself with violent gestures of abhorrence. Bereshit Rabbah 65:17

Isaac’s second blessing (to undisguised Jacob) (interesting to note differences):

“So Isaac summoned Jacob and blessed him; he instructed him, and said to him, “Do not take a wife from the Canaanite women. Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take a wife from there from the daughters of Laban your mother’s borther. And may Almighty God bless you, make you fruitful and make you numerous, and may you be a congregation of peoples. May He grant you the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may possess the land of your sojourns which God gave to Abraham.” Genesis 28:1-4

* * * * * *


Though the text has Rebecca warning Jacob of Esau’s murderous intent before she speaks with Isaac, I’ve excluded it from the story. She just as easily could have warned Jacob between the summons and his second blessing by Isaac. There’s a principle that there isn’t necessarily order in the narrative, especially when we are dealing with multiple and compressed scenes, characters and points-of-view.

Who cares what they say?

Genesis: Toldot

Who cares what they say?

There is often an inordinate amount of sensitivity as to what the nations of the world think about Israel and its actions. The obvious contrast is that other nations (take your pick, including U.S., Russia, China, etc.) don’t seem to care or even deign to respond to any criticism of their actions.

Rabbi Yaakov ben Manoach (Hizkuni) has an unusual approach regarding what the nations of the world say about Israel. Not only does he seem unperturbed by any criticism, but he doesn’t even want positive attention: “Don’t bless us – don’t even pray for us.”

Hizkuni wonders as to the source of our Matriarch Rebecca’s infertility. He claims that it was actually a result of her mother’s and brother’s farewell blessing. As Rebecca prepares to depart her hometown of Aram Naharayim together with Abraham’s servant, her family proclaims a munificent, if not bombastic blessing:

“Our sister, may you come to be thousands of myriads, and may your offspring inherit the gate of its foes.”

Genesis 24:60

Hizkuni explains that God did not want the nations of the world to take credit for the progeny that would be born, claiming that their generous blessing was the cause. God did not want them involved. He preferred that the prayer come exclusively from the immediate family:

“Isaac pleaded of God opposite his wife, because she was barren. God allowed himself to be entreated by him, and his wife Rebecca conceived.”

Genesis 25:21

God seems much more interested in our own self-determination, in our true actions (which He sees quite well, without the intervention of biased media) and our own connection and relationship with Him, rather than anything anyone else has to say about us – whether it is bad – or even good.

May we know how to judge ourselves correctly, before succumbing to the rants of hypocritical demagogues.

Shabbat Shalom,



To all those who defend Israel’s name and honor. We shouldn’t have to, and I’m not sure how effective it is, but it is noble nonetheless.

The Second Great Famine

The Second Great Famine

Not unlike The Second Great Depression that is currently staring us in the face, our forefather Isaac had to deal with The Second Great Famine of the Middle East (there were probably more, but his is only the second one in the biblical narrative. The first was the one his father, Abraham, had confronted a generation earlier (as referred to in Genesis 26:1).

In those days, draught and famine led directly to starvation and death. Abraham’s strategy was to head to the greener pastures of Egypt. Isaac also considers the same strategy, however God directly instructs him to stay within the boundaries of Israel (Genesis 26:2). Isaac stays in the area of Grar, ruled at the time by Avimelech (we’ve seen this neighborhood before as well with Abraham – Genesis 20:1).

One of the predictable things that ensue next is a battle for water rights. In the middle of the draught, Isaac, with great effort seeks out water and digs wells in locations that his father had staked in the past. The locals fight him claiming the water belongs to them. Two well digging operations end in failure. Instead of prolonging the altercation, Isaac moves on.

Isaac’s third attempt is successful, or far enough from the locals for him to remain undisturbed. Once Isaac has established an operating well, he departs the immediate vicinity of Grar and moves on to nearby Beer Sheva.

That very same night, God appears to Isaac and blesses him. Then Isaac builds an altar and does something the Torah describes as “calling in the name of God”. The Torah makes multiple references to Abraham doing likewise. The simplest explanation is that he was merely giving a heartfelt thanks and prayer to God. Another interpretation is that these were major communal and social events, where the forefathers spread the knowledge and name of God to all those surrounding them in the area.

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno explains that it is after this precise action of “calling in the name of God”, however Sforno might have understood that term, that massive success came to Isaac, even in the middle of the Great Famine. A few verses earlier, Isaac is reported as having cultivated 100 “shearim” – some great abundance of crop. He is so successful, that Avimelech banishes him from Grar for fear of him being a draw on resources. However, after Isaac moves to the Beer Sheva area, he immediately and almost effortlessly finds another well. Isaac then becomes such a force in the area that Avimelech comes to Isaac with his General, Pichol, and sues for a peace treaty with him.

May we as people, not only survive the difficult economic storm, but also thrive as our forefathers did before us.

Shabbat Shalom,



This week’s dvar torah is dedicated to Dr. Shmuel Katz of Ramat Bet Shemesh. He is a clear fountain of Torah and Chesed in often muddled and troubled waters. May his efforts be rewarded one hundred times over.