Parshat Toldot- The Price of Success

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(ויגדל האיש… ויקנאו אתו פלשתים” (בראשית כ”ו: י”ג-י”ד”

In this week’s פרשה, our forebear יצחק faces a situation that both his father אברהם faced and his son יעקב will also face- a famine in ארץ כנען. However, unlike  his father, יצחק is told to stay in Canaan and not go down to Egypt to escape the famine. As a result, יצחק, his wife and young sons move to גרר, the land of the פלשתים. Initially, יצחק was afraid that he would be mistreated by the natives of גרר, until אבימלך מלך הפלשתים assures him “והקימותי את השבעה אשר נשבעתי לאברהם אביך.” While this did not include keeping the local men away from רבקה (see כ”ו:י’), once יצחק settled in גרר, he became very successful (“וימצא בשנה ההיא מאה שערים-That year he reaped a hundredfold harvest.”) and as a result “ויקנאו אתו פלשתים- The Philistines began to envy him.”

Rav Hirsch, inferring from the פסוק that the פלשתים envied him and not his wealth, teaches that the פלשתים directed their jealousy against יצחק personally- they hated יצחק for being very successful, and they were threatened by his success. While Rav Hirsch lived in Germany a few decades before the serious Anti-Semitism of the Holocaust began there, his teaching here of the פלשתים’s jealousy of יצחק turning into a personal hatred is symptomatic of Anti-Semitism worldwide, especially in Germany in the early 20th Century. Throughout history, in almost every setting that Jews were mistreated, it always began with Jews settling among the gentiles (as רש”י notes, יצחק was settled in the capital city of the realm of the פלשתים, among all of the rich and wealthy), and, as the Jews become successful, their neighbors begin hating them for their success, leading to such incidents as the Spanish Inquisition and the Shoah.

Rav Hirsch’s idea echoes a teaching in the משך חכמה on פרשת בחוקותי. In פרשת בחוקותי, at the end of the תוכחה, G-d presents a silver lining to בני ישראל. He informs them “ואף גם זאת בהייתם בארץ איביהם, לא מאסתים ולא געלתים לכלתם… כי אני השם אלקיהם- And when you will be in the land of your enemies, do not be afraid that they will destroy you… for I am Hashem your G-d.” Rav Meir Simcha Hacohen, the author of the משך חכמה, learns that this פסוק is teaching us of an unfortunate cycle that בנ”י will continually go through while we are in גלות. Initially, we will move to foreign lands and settle among the גוים, stay connected to G-d and succeed in our endeavors. However, as the Jewish people slowly get accustomed to their surroundings, we will begin to close our connection to G-d in favor of connecting to those around us and assimilating into the local culture. G-d then sends a sharp reminder to the Jewish nation, through a pogrom, a shoah, or another Anti-Semitic action, to remind בני ישראל who they should be serving. Unfortunately, בנ”י do not learn their lesson, and move somewhere else where this cycle starts anew. The משך חכמה concludes that this unfortunate cycle will continue until our גאולה, when the Jewish People will finally have our own land to succeed in without worrying about our gentile neighbors hating us.

While this cycle has proven true for Jewish history since the destruction of the First Temple and the expulsion of the Jews into the Babylonian Exile, יצחק’s story has a different, happier ending- אבימלך and his advisor פיכול personally visit יצחק in באר שבע to make a covenant with him. They tell him “וכאשר עשינו עמך רק טוב… אתה עתה ברוך ה’- Just as we have done only good to you… so too you do only good to us.” While this isn’t necessarily the whole truth (אבימלך, after all, had kicked יצחק out of his city), it would seem that this story concludes with יצחק and אבימלך making peace, and יצחק hears the next day that “ויהי ביום ההוא … ויגידו לו על אדות המים אשר חפרו… מצאנו מים”- we see that within a day of renewing their covenants, אבימלך keeps to his word and releases יצחק’s wells.

Why is יצחק’s exile different from the future exiles of his descendants? How is he able to have a happy ending? I believe יצחק was able to be successful in גרר because, as we learned above, יצחק never left ארץ כנען. As a result, he was very successful and was even able to return to ארץ מגורי אביו without any bodily harm or loss of his wealth. In a nutshell, יצחק’s remaining in ארץ כנען helped ensure his happy ending with אבימלך and the פלשתים.

As we learned in the משך חכמה, there are many times throughout history that Jewish people have made immense advances in the secular world. Within the last 100 years, history has seen Albert Einstein, a German Jew, write the theory of relativity. Steven Spielberg, one of the most influential movie producers, was also Jewish. Felix Frankfurter, a famous lawyer under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the third Jew to serve in the Supreme Court. Despite this, or rather as a result of this, the Jewish people are hated no matter where they are. Even the United States of America, one of the most friendly temporary homes of the Jewish people throughout our exile, is starting to turn a little Anti-Semitic, with very strong Pro-Palestinian protests occurring in almost all secular college campuses country-wide. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran and one of the most famous Anti-Semites in our time, speaks in New York at least twice every year, with politicians and residents alike welcoming and applauding him as he speaks of the destruction of Israel and the Jewish nation. Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, Rav of Cong. Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, wrote on his blog last week that given new political and cultural trends in the United States, within a decade or two at most, the United States will not be a safe home to the Jews anymore. No matter what the Jewish people accomplish in the exile, our only reward is hatred at our success.

There is only one place where the Jewish people can succeed at succeeding- the state of Israel. Whether or not you believe that מדינת ישראל is the אתחלתא דגואלה The beginning of the redemption (and my long-time readers should not be in any doubt how I feel about this), everyone can agree that the most innovation the Jewish Nation has ever done has originated from Israel. Anyone who uses a personal computer most likely has an Israeli-manufactured Intel processor running it. The Technion Institute for Technology, a major engineering college in Haifa, is considered to be one of the best engineering colleges in the world and even has a joint program with MIT in New York. The Israeli Defense Force leads the world in defense technology and some of their inventions, such as the Iron Dome anti-missile system, are even being implemented by other armies. Since there are no gentile neighbors to hate the Jews for their success, we have b”h been able to be successful in Israel.

As we enter the month of כסלו, we remember times that the Jewish people were persecuted, when their way of life was threatened. We must also realize that we are in those times again. In Europe, especially in France, there have been several terrorist attacks over the past year, such as the March 2012 Tolhouse attack on a Jewish school leaving 4 dead and 1 injured. Over the past week, over 300 rockets have been fired by Hamas from Gaza (ironically, the former land of the פלשתים) into Israel. Our Jewish brothers in Sderot, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and even Kiryat Gat have stopped their day-to-day lives to flee to the safety of shelters and safe rooms, waiting for the barrage of Kassams and Grads to end. At the time of this writing, there are even sirens wailing in Tel Aviv and Rishon Lezion, as rockets have been landing within range of city limits. In response, the IDF has launched a huge aerial and ground offensive into Gaza, called מבצע עמוד הענן, considered to be many as the beginning of the battle for Southern Israel. While many, especially left-wing politicians in the United States and most leaders of Muslim countries in the Middle East believe that this operation is unnecessary, and we are starting a fight where none is necessary, in the process ignoring Hamas’s provocation of firing rockets into Israel much as אבימלך ignored his faults as he said “עשינו רק טוב” to Yitzchak. Or, as former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir once said: “If Palestine were to lay down their guns tomorrow, there would be no war. If Israel were to lay down theirs, there would be no Israel.”

Our תפילות should be with the חיילי צבא הגנה לישראל as they begin this difficult and grueling operation, and with השם’s help, they should be זוכה to have הקדוש ברוך הוא Himself defending them through an עמוד ענן and through this be successful in defending the Jewish way of life in the only place in the world where Jews can truly prosper and succeed. We should be זוכה to bring the גאולה very soon so that we can end the bloodshed and Anti-Semitism, and begin a time that the Jewish people can truly succeed as one nation in our own land- truly free to flourish and prosper both in תורה and מדע. Shabbat Shalom.