Belated Dvar Torah on Parshat Toldot

30 Nov
Yeshivat Har Etzion ( Obtai...

Yeshivat Har Etzion ( Obtained with express written permission from Yeshivat Har Etzion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here I am, inaugurating a new blog, to read old content, please see the side bar, updates and modifications to this blog are coming soon. The following dvar Torah has been modified from one that I gave originally to a group of fellow students at Yeshivat Har Etzion on Parshat Toldot 2012/5773.

Often during the formative sections of the Jewish narrative found in Sefer Bereshit, I find it difficult to locate new angles to known stories. Ostensibly this week was no different, especially given that we are still relatively early in the reading cycle, the text is in prose form, and it holds my attention easily, seemingly there is not much new to be said.

But with the outbreak of increased hostilities in Southern Israel, which now extend their terrifying impact on the citizens Gush Dan, Jerusalem, and Gush Etzion, I was able to cast the parasha in somewhat of a new light. We know from earlier parshiyot that the land will be given to the children of Abraham, as promised by God, the descendents of Abraham will be rooted in the land, will mulitply in it, etc… When a second famine strikes the land in this week’s parasha, Yitzhak attempts to follow his father’s footsteps, but he is immediately warned by God to remain in the land, “Do not go down to Egypt, dwell in the land about which I will tell you” (26:2), Yitzhak is then told about the roots that will forever bind his descendants to the land in which he sojourns.

In addition to his physical presence in the land, Yitzhak also performs an act that serves as a significant marker of residency. In the Ancient near-East, one of the ways buy which people cemented their residence in a certain place was the digging of wells, providing a vital source of water for flocks and humans alike. Not only does Yitzhak dig wells, but he digs them in the places where his father had, places where the wells had been filled by the Plishtim. In his excavations, he returns the wells to the names that were given by Abraham (26:18). As we have already seen in Bereshit, and as will play out in subsequent narratives, an alteration in the name of a person or place denotes a significant change of relationship. Yitzhak deepens his connection to the land both literally and metaphorically by digging into the earth and giving it a specific name.  Yitzhak goes so far as to dig new wells, as he branches out from the territory in which his father dwelt. The name of the the well is Rehovot, after which Yitzhak says, “For now God has made room for us, and we will become fruitful in the land,” (26:22).

The stage is now set for the connection to our current life in Israel, and in the yeshiva. As we are all citizens of a foreign nation, be it the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, and others, we arrived in Israel to locate existing roots, and to nurture new connections to Israel in their infancy, whether as new married couples, new Israeli citizens, or new students in a new yeshiva.

So what does this have to do with the ongoing violence, and how is that connected to the parsha? Terrorism and terrorists are essentially aimed at creating social and political chaos within a civilian population as a way to achieve political objectives, better known as uprooting a society from its normal routine and normal functioning. As we descended into the bomb shelter upon the sounding of the siren during kabbalat Shabbat, this was made incredibly clear to me. Gazan terrorists are utilizing rockets as the spade with which they hope to displace Israel from its place on the map. The analogy is more broad that just the ongoing violence, and should also be applied to the Palestinian Terror War (Intifada), that took place in the mid-2000s, along with other more conventional wars in which Israel battled for its survival, its rootedness.

In the face of such attempts, we must act like Yitzak avinu, reopening old wells, while also creating and giving names to new ones, it is only in this way that our connection to the land and to each other will continue to flourish.

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