Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Toldot
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicatedin the memory of

Freicha daughter of Ester

Parashat Toldot

The Patriarch Isaac Was a Settler

When a person is called upon to be strong and to not weaken others, attempts to protect oneself on a personal level will be of no avail. God's anger demands a rendering of judgement upon the one who abandons his brothers in the face of the battle.


Rabbi S. Yossef Weitzen

1. Isaac - A Model for Settling the Land
2. The Prohibition Against Leaving the Land
3. "In the Land of Life"
4. "Satiation Without Satiation."
5. The Jewish People Are "Abnormal"
6. A State for Survivors
7. The Final Famine Will Reveal Our Greatness

Isaac - A Model for Settling the Land
If one were to attempt to uncover the history of Zionism in the Torah, it would seem that this week's Torah Portion - Toledot - is the place to look. There is a famine in the land. Water is lacking. There is no prosperity to be found. Suddenly, our father Isaac enters the barren land. He digs a well and strikes water. The Philistines, his neighbors, attach themselves to him and begin to make problems for him. They stop up the well. Isaac, though, does not engage in a direct assault upon these terrorists Rather, he continues, with stubborn determination, to dig another well. And though his foes once again confound his efforts, eventually Isaac prospers: "Isaac farmed in the area. That year he reaped a hundred times [as much as he sowed], for God had blessed him" (Genesis 26:12).

Now there is a clear great success for Jewish settlement, and as a result great jealousy is awakened in the neighbors, which gives rise to a desire to arrive at some sort of an agreement which will allow Isaac and his neighbors to exist separately.
We believe that, for the Jewish People, the Land of Israel is a land of life. Our clinging to the land may appear at first like an illogical step which is destined to result in death and destruction, yet a more all-encompassing approach teaches that the more we sacrifice ourselves for the land, the more the land gives us in return, looking kindly upon us and bestowing us with her blessing.

The Prohibition Against Leaving the Land
The sages of the Midrash present us with a survey of the various periods of famine in the Land of Israel, past and future:
"'And there was a famine...' - Periods of hunger came upon the world: once in the days of Adam...once in the days of Lamekh...once in the days of Abraham...once in the days of Isaac...once in the days of Jacob...once in the days of the Judges...once in the days of David...once in the days of Elijah...once in the days of Elisha...and one [will come] in the future, as it is written (Amos 8:11): 'I will send a famine in the Land, not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the Lord.' According to this, then, famine came not upon the weak; rather, it gripped the mighty, those who were capable of withstanding it.

The sages of the Midrash are teaching us that God only brings famine upon a mighty generation, a generation which possesses mighty individuals, and that will not be broken in the face of hunger and hardship. What is the great trial in a time of famine? The answer to this question in discernable in the continuation of the Midrash:
"This teaches us that one must not abandon the Land of Israel unless the situation is so bad that a se'atayim (the bulk of 288 eggs) of wheat is being sold for a sela. Rabbi Shimon said, "One is only permitted to leave the Land of Israel if he finds no wheat whatsoever. But if he is able to find wheat - even if a se'ah (144 eggs-worth) of wheat sells for a sela - it is forbidden to leave the land, for Elimelekh left the land and he and his sons died."

Was the famine in the time of Elimelekh in fact so great that he was permitted to leave the land? The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) writes: It is forbidden to leave the Land of Israel for abroad permanently...but to reside temporarily outside of Israel is forbidden unless famine is so great that a dinar's-worth of wheat costs two dinars...and even though it is permissible to leave, this is not the proper behavior for the pious, for Machlon and Kilyon were two leaders of their generation, yet because of the great hardships in the land, they went abroad. And they paid for this act with their lives (Hilkhot Melakhim 5:9).

The Rambam holds that Elimelekh and his two sons certainly did not violate Jewish law. Yet, even though, according to the letter of the law, it is permissible to leave the land under certain conditions, the pious are called upon to be stringent, trust in God, and cling to the land in even the most difficult situations. Yet, we see from the above Midrash that in certain cases pious behavior is more than just praiseworthy - it is an absolute obligation. If one does not fulfill it, one pays for with his life, even though human logic tells man to flee from danger. There are times and situations in which one does not take flight from the Land of Israel, despite the danger. Elsewhere, the sages describe the type of conditions which existed at that time which demanded of Elimelekh to remain despite the famine:
"Why was Elimelekh punished? Because he broke their spirit."
Elimelekh was a leading Torah scholar in his generation, and his leaving the Land of Israel shattered the spirit of the people, and a weakening of their ability to endure the weight of the famine. Under such circumstances, Elimelekh's calculations were not permitted to be mere personal ones. Rather, he was obligated to take into consideration the fate of the entire nation. The greatest threat to life exists when the nation is weak.

"In the Land of Life"
In situations where a person is called upon to be strong and to not weaken others, attempts to protect oneself on a personal level will be of no avail. God's anger demands a rendering of judgement upon the one who abandons his brothers in the face of the battle. Elimelekh is going to Moab for a short time, yet, while there, his family is plagued by one tragedy after another. This is reflected in the tenebrous testimony of Naomi, upon her return to the Land of Israel with her daughter in law (Ruth 1:21): "I went out full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why then do you call me Naomi (meaning "pleasant"), seeing that the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?"

The book of Ruth focuses in on Naomi's repentance upon her return to the Land of Israel. Divine personal providence returns to Naomi and her family, and, astonishingly, Ruth succeeds in filling the void that was created while they were abroad. This is the declaration of the Book of Ruth: "I shall walk before God in the land of life." Clinging to this holy land alone is what brings life to the Jewish people.

We feel the same way. We feel as if we bear the responsibility of serving on the front line. Much weakness and faintheartedness will be caused to the entire House of Israel if we do not fulfill our task valiantly. Perhaps the Almighty will merit us to be the dam that holds off the collapse of Israel's national perseverance. Wherever we stand up with courage, the nation will follow after us. Our refusal to budge in this battle clearly has the power to awaken very special personal Divine providence which causes an ongoing flow of life to all of the Jewish settlements throughout the land of Israel.

"Satiation Without Satiation"
When we consider the above Midrash, we can discern that the final famine will be different from the others. This famine is learned from the verse, "I will send a famine in the Land, not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the Lord."
Just what sort of famine are we dealing with here?
To begin with, the sages, in tractate Sanhedrin, describe for us the nature of the period which will precede the coming of the Messiah. There, it says that in the fourth year there will be "satiation without satiation." How are we expected to understand "satiation without satiation"?

Sometimes there is great abundance in the world, yet people do not possess the spiritual capacity to appreciate it. Let us take, for example, the case of ever-advancing computer technology. It would appear that the entire objective of the computer is to allow man more free time so that he might turn his attention to spiritual pursuits. Every new and more efficient program is meant to assist man in attaining this goal. Yet we see that, in actuality, there is a spiritual "block" which and every new computer innovation merely pushes the human curiosity to work on the next innovation. Man is caught in a race of one innovation after another, and the soul is too occupied by this sea of new contraptions to be able to truly enjoy itself. Instead of meriting valuable time for the pursuit of spiritual matters, we have in fact become slaves to the computer. The invention has turned against its inventor - the computer and all of its accessories has taken on a value of its own.
The Sabbatical year is intended to break the monotonous continuum of labor-dominated years. Regarding the commandment to observe both the Jubilee and Sabbatical years, it is written:
"In the seventh year, you might ask, 'What will we eat? We have not planted nor have we harvested crops.' I will direct my blessing to you in the sixth year, and the land will produce enough crops for three years" (Leviticus 25:20, 21).

On the face of things, where one in fact sees for himself that there are "enough crops for three years," why should there be reason to ask "What will we eat?" Some of the earlier commentators explain that the bounty will not be of a quantitative nature. Rather, the crops receive a "blessing in the stomach," i.e., during the Sabbatical year, the blessing is of a primarily spiritual nature. While the crops appear to be outwardly insufficient, a blessing rests on what there is and causes it to suffice.

The Jewish People Are "Abnormal"
This unique phenomenon of unattainable abundance exists in our own generation. This is the case, for example, when it comes to the capacity to provide personal security to the citizens of the State of Israel. Outwardly, we find enormous military strength, yet, the spiritual force needed to exercise this strength is lacking. The Jewish people are still affected by a feeling of the exile. We do not believe in our strength. We do not have the courage to become a world superpower.

The Jewish people are likened to stars and to dust. Rabbi Yehudah Liva ben Betzalel, the Maharal of Prague, in his classic work, Netzach Yisrael, explains that the Jewish people exist in either one of these two states: a trampled, beaten, disgraced, and debased people - like dust; or, in contrast, an elevated nation whose status rises high above that of the other peoples of the world - like the stars in the sky. The Jewish people are incapable of adopting a middle path. Whichever way we go we are abnormal, different from the rest of the nations.

A State for Survivors
The nations of the world gave their approval for the establishment of a Jewish state because they are prepared to see us as a hounded and pitiful nation, in search of a secure shelter. But they are not ready to accept us as a normal people, an nation like any other - what more so a word power. Yet, when we relate to ourselves as a great nation, a world power, they have no choice but to reluctantly answer "Amen."
This was the case after the Six Day War - Israel became the subject of respect and admiration overnight.

The desire to receive the approval of the nations to establish our home in the Land of Israel, stems from a lack of conviction as to the correctness of our ways. We, the settlers on the front line, must broadcast a clear and simple message: We have returned home! We do not need security-based reasons in order to justify our existence here. The act of settlement itself is a just act, providing us with a life full of renewed strength, and giving meaning to our national renaissance. The Land of Israel was barren while we were in exile. She was waiting for us to return. We are not disturbed by the fact that our "cousins" also enjoy the fruits of our renewed presence in the land, so long as they are appreciative and admit our lofty nation's right to this lofty land, the Holy Land. But the moment they begin to poke fun at us and jestingly shoot arrows at us, they brings upon himself the decree: "Drive away this slave, together with her son. The son of this slave will not share the inheritance with my son Isaac" (Genesis 21:10).

The Final Famine Will Reveal Our Greatness
Let us return to our Midrash which describes the final famine that will befall the world. This famine, say the sages, will be a unique occurrence wherein there is no lack of bread or water, but a thirst for the word of God. Yet, why does this famine come about?

The Jewish people have survived a long exile which has caused us to come of age as a sensitive, moral, and just nation. We, the Jewish people, have experienced the cruelty of the nations on our own bodies, and we repudiate through our very existence all immoral behavior. Yet, the exile is also responsible for less positive effects. We have become accustomed, as a result of the exile, to see ourselves as a small and hounded people, continuously struggling to simply survive.

Having returned and reentered the Land of Israel, the time has come to begin seeing things from a new perspective. As a people, we bear the responsibility of broadcasting a message to the entire world. We are a nation which is destined to be a world power in the realms of religious faith, morality, and justice. In order to dispose of the exilic influence, a spiritual revolution must be effected. In order to justify our greatness, we must be great on a national level even in our inner makeup. This is the famine - not a hunger for food or a thirst for water, but a desire to hear the word of God. This is the essence of the final famine, which will ready us for great proclamations - proclamations of faith, courage, love, and the flow of free and unfettered life forces.
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