By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
November 9, 2002
Yitzchak’s life-story, although longer than that of his father
or his son, is decidedly less detailed in the Torah’s account. He is usually
more passive than active; the significant moments of his biography — his
birth, the Akeidah, his marriage — may have him as their focus, but he does
very little initiating. And yet, together with Avraham and Yaakov, he is a
Patriarch. What is Yitzchak’s contribution to the founding generations of the
In one area of his life, Yitzchak is very active and successful, namely the
material. When he lives in the area of Gerar, on the southwestern edge of the
land promised to Avraham, and although it is a year of famine,
(12) And Yitzchak sowed in that land, and that year he reaped one
hundred-fold; and Hashem blessed him. (13) And the man grew [wealthy], and he
continued to grow until he had grown very much. (14) And he had flocks of
sheep and flocks of cattle and great work (VA’AVUDAH RABBAH); and the
Philistines were resentful of him (Bereishit 26).
As a result of this envy and resentment, the Philistines seal up
the crucial wells that had been dug in the days of Avraham.
By sowing the land, Yitzchak is undertaking a new endeavor. While Avraham’s
family had long worked as shepherds, and Yaakov and his sons later fall back on
shepherding, Yitzchak is the only one of the Patriarchs who diversifies into
(Indeed, it might be argued that Yosef’s dream of all the brothers “binding
sheaves in the midst of the field” [37:7] is an expression of his desire for the
family to return to grandfather Yitzchak’s agricultural experiment!)
VA’AVUDAH RABBAH: ‘AVUDAH derives from the root word ‘A-V-D, “to work”; it is
the source of ‘EVED, “servant.” Rashi understands ’AVUDAH RABBAH as a general
term meaning “much activity.”
However, Rashbam explains it as “work in the fields and vineyards.” Other
commentaries see this term as referring more specifically to “a large staff of
servants,” as in Iyov 1:3. Even according to this view, as Malbim points out,
the Torah wishes to emphasize that Yitzchak’s wealth was so diversified as to
require workers of very different types, both for shepherding (the “family
business”) and agriculture, Yitzchak’s new venture.
Yitzchak often thinks in agricultural terms, connecting it with the spiritual:
And Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field towards evening (24:63),
which our Rabbis connect with the establishment of the Mincha prayer (Berachot
26b), as well as the building of the Temple (Pesachim 88a).
In his blessings to Yaakov and Esav, Yitzchak looks forward to a life of tilling
And he [Yaakov pretending to be Esav] drew near, and he kissed
him and he smelled the odor of his clothes, and he blessed him; and he said,
“See, the smell of my son is like the smell of the field that Hashem has
blessed. (28) And may G-d grant you of the dew of the heavens and the fat of the
land, and much grain and wine.” (27:27-28)
Later, to Esav,
And Yitzchak, his father answered and he said to him, “Behold, the fat of the
land will be your habitation, and of the dew of the heavens above.” (27:39)
The Zohar (Bereishit 143b) teaches that Yitzchak intends by his blessings to
undo the curses placed on the earth after the sin of Adam: “Cursed be the earth
because of you” (3:17), which were repeated to the farmer, Kayin
You are cursed more than the earth that opened wide its mouth to take your
brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the land it will not continue to
give its strength to you (4:11-12).
Noach was a farmer, with disastrous results (9:20-27). But, perhaps Yitzchak
wishes to recover the blessing in working the soil that existed prior to the sin
of Adam and Chavah.
Rabbi Mordechai Breuer (1921- ), winner of the Israel Prize for Torah
Literature, 1999, in “Chapters of the Festivals,” argues that Yitzchak’s
contribution went beyond merely maintaining what his father Avraham had begun.
Avraham acquired the land by walking through it; Yaakov by returning to it.
Yitzchak acquired his connection to the land by remaining in it, precisely by
not leaving it. The same can be said for their spiritual contributions. Yitzchak
is the Patriarch of stability and permanence. The same can be said for their
spiritual contributions. Yitzchak is the Patriarch of stability and permanence.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik (1903-1993), in his essay “Sacred and Profane,”
develops the notion of “place-consciousness,” contrasting the nomad and the
In what ways is the settler who has his own “place” superior to
the nomad who has none of his own? First, the nomad is an exploiter, a parasite.
He moves from one pasture to another, from one feeding ground to another. When
favorable ecological conditions turn, he lifts his tent and travels anew. He has
neither the desire nor intent to cultivate his land, for he has no land of his
own; and he can always find new pastures. Secondly, the nomad has no mental
“bond” with his land. Since he has offered it nothing, it offers him nothing. He
does not feel a symbiotic relationship between himself and his land. He has no
The settler, however, is a producer and creator. This is his
land; he tills and cultivates it. He prays for rain; and he combats the elements
that would drive him from his land. He does not wish to find new pastures, for
these are integrated with his existence. The settler has a land attachment. His
land has become part and parcel of his mental set. He lives in a symbiotic
relationship with his land. He has tilled it and it has produced. He loves it
and merges in it. He has “place-consciousness.”
The Jew did not attain full Kedushat Makom, a sanctified
place-consciousness, until he settled on his land, thereby achieving a true
Our Father Yitzchak bequeathed to us our everlasting connection to the land of
Israel, which is our source of identity and sanctity.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"
"May God give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the
earth, and abundant grain and wine." (Bereishit 27:28)
The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 66:3) expounds this blessing allegorically
in three different ways, which may be seen as corresponding to three
different periods in Jewish history: the period of forty years in the
wilderness; the period of residence in the Land of Israel; and the period
of exile. In the wilderness, the dew referred to the mannah, the fatness
of the earth to Miriam's well, abundant grain to the young men who would
enter Eretz Yisroel, and abundant wine to young Jewish maidens. In Eretz
Yisrael, the dew was interpreted as a reference to Jerusalem, the fatness
of the land a reference to sacrificial offerings, abundant grain a
reference to the First Fruits, and abundant wine a reference to the wine
libations. During the exile, the dew alludes to Torah, the fatness of the
earth alludes to Mishnah, abundant grain alludes to Talmud, and abundant
wine alludes to Midrash.
However, it may be suggested that the ultimate and literal fulfillment of
Yitzchak's blessing will be realized as a precursor to 'Kibbutz Galuyot' -
Ingathering of the Exiles - as the Talmud teaches regarding the order of
the blessings in the Amidah:
"Why did they place the blessing regarding 'Ingathering of the Exiles'
after the 'Blessing of the Years'? For it says (Yechezkel 36:8): "But you,
O mountains of Israel, will give forth your branch and bear your fruit for
My people, Israel, for they are soon to come.""
In advance of the return of the exiles, the Land of Israel will give forth
its produce in great and glorious abundance. This blessing is being
witnessed in our very days.
Rabbi Pinchas Winston, Tel Stone