Ramban writes: "The Torah spends time with the wells that Yitzchak dug,
although the simple story is of no significance and in no way enhances
Yitzchak's honor, because there is something hidden within it." He
explains that the first two wells, over which there were quarrels, allude
to the first two Batei Mikdash/Temples. The third well, which was dug in
peace, alludes to the coming Third Temple.
R' Yaakov Kamenetsky z"l (died 1986) adds: Chazal say that the 400 years of
exile that Hashem foretold for Avraham's descendants began with
Yitzchak. Therefore, the Torah had to teach us that Yitzchak suffered a
form of "exile" at the hands of another nation.
Yitzchak did not realize at first that he was among enemies; that is why he
called the second well "Sitnah"/"Hatred" (not the first). At first he
thought that the Plishtim stole his well because they needed water, but
when they stole his second well also, he realized that they were motivated
by hatred for him. Realizing this at last, Yitzchak moved farther away and
was able to dig a well in peace.
A similar fate befell the two Batei Mikdash. During the period when each
of them stood, the Jewish people sought alliances with their neighbors, and
in both instances, those alliances played a role in the Temple's eventual
destruction. (For example, the alliances that King Shlomo made resulted in
the introduction of idolatry into the Land.)
The first two wells were dug by Yitzchak's servants, while the third well
was dug by Yitzchak himself. So, too, the third Bet Hamikdash will be
built by Hashem himself (according to Rashi), and will exist in peace
forever. (Emet Le'Yaakov)
"Then make for me delicacies such as I love and bring them to me and I will
eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die." (27:3)
How does a tzaddik's blessing work? Is it a prophecy that informs the
recipient that a certain future awaits him? If that were the case, it
would make no sense for Yitzchak to say to Esav (27:35), "Your brother came
with cleverness and took your blessing." Either Yitzchak prophesied about
Yaakov or about Esav; there is no way Yaakov could have "stolen" a prophecy
Then is a blessing a prayer by the tzaddik that the recipient should be
blessed? If that were so, it would make no sense for Yitzchak to say to
Esav (27:33), "I blessed him [Yaakov] - indeed, he shall remain
blessed!" What was to stop Yitzchak from praying to undo his
blessing? Furthermore, if a blessing is actually a prayer, then Yitzchak
was praying for Esav even though it was Yaakov standing before him. Why
then was Yitzchak upset when he realized he had been tricked, and why was
R' Levi ben Gershon z"l (Ralbag; 1288-1344) explains: There is an element
of prophecy at work when a tzaddik gives a blessing. Specifically, a
tzaddik cannot give a person any blessing the tzaddik chooses; rather, he
gives a blessing that is appropriate for the recipient. This is stated
explicitly in the episode of Yaakov and his grandsons, Menashe and Ephraim
(Bereishit 48:19), when Yaakov explained why he had put his right hand on
the younger son: "I know, my son, I know; he [the older son, Menashe] also
will become a people, and he too will become great; yet his younger brother
shall become greater than he." Yaakov said, "Do not be upset, for I only
gave each brother the blessing that was appropriate to him." This is why
Yitzchak could not undo Yaakov's blessing.
Then why was Esav upset? Because there is also an element of prayer
involved in giving a blessing. When a tzaddik gives a blessing, he prays
that the good that is destined to come should be magnified and
multiplied. For example, if the tzaddik sees that a certain person is
destined to become a state governor, he can pray that the person instead
become president. However, he would never pray that a person who is
destined to be a stable boy become president.
In this light, we can understand why Yitzchak asked to be fed before he
blessed his son. By receiving a gift from the person to be blessed, the
prophet attains some level of attachment to that person, and he can see the
person's destiny more clearly. This is why, for example, the (future) King
Shaul brought a gift to the prophet Shmuel when he came to make a request
from that prophet, as related in the Book of Shmuel.
(Peirush Al Ha'Torah Al Derech Ha'Beur)
R' Yosef Albo z"l (approx. 1380-1444) cites Ralbag's explanation for the
phenomenon of blessings (without mentioning Ralbag by name), and writes
that it is the best explanation anyone has yet offered. Nevertheless, R'
Albo concludes, that explanation is inadequate. For one thing, it does not
explain how someone who is not a prophet can give a blessing. How can the
typical kohen, who is not a prophet, give the Birkat Kohanim / the Priestly
Blessing? Indeed, how can a universal blessing such as Birkat Kohanim be
effective at all, since it is not tailored to the recipient as Ralbag
claims a blessing should be?
Accordingly, R' Albo offers a slightly different explanation for how
blessings work. He writes: Most blessings are nothing more than prayers
that a person receive general or specific goodness if he is suited to
receive it. However, if the recipient is not suited to receive the
blessing, a prophet or tzaddik can prepare him to receive it. Essentially,
the tzaddik acts as a conduit through which a blessing flows to the
recipient, provided that the recipient has some quality that makes him
minimally suited to be blessed. Similarly, the kohanim who bless the
congregation are conduits through which blessing flows, for it is
impossible for there not to be at least some people in the congregation who
are suited to be blessed.
This is what is behind the practice that the one giving a blessing places
his hands on the recipient's head. The hands are the "channel" through
which the blessing "flows." However, the more the recipient is suited to
receive a blessing, the greater the flow through the channel. That is why
Yaakov placed his right hand on Ephraim's head, saying that Ephraim would
be greater than Menashe. Because Yaakov saw prophetically that Ephraim was
more suited to be blessed than was Menashe, Yaakov placed the greater
conduit - the stronger right hand - on Ephraim's head.
If a blessing is primarily a prayer, why couldn't Yitzchak undo the
blessing he gave Yaakov by turning around and reciting a second prayer on
Esav's behalf? Because once the blessing has flowed through the channel,
there is no turning it back. By way of a parable: If a gardener planted
seeds and they have already grown, there is nothing he can do to reverse
the process, except kill the plant. When Yitzchak said to Esav (about
Yaakov), "Indeed, he shall remain blessed," Yitzchak meant, "It is too
late; the blessing has already flowed to him through the channel." That is
why Esav wanted to kill Yaakov.
(Sefer Ha'ikkarim Part IV, Ch. 19)
Letters from Our Sages
The following letter was written by R' Yitzchak Hutner z"l (1904-1980; rosh
yeshiva of Mesivta Chaim Berlin). It is printed in Pachad Yitzchak: Igrot
U'ketavim p. 220, and dated 7 Av 5723 .
I have not allowed the trait of zerizut / alacrity to control me with
respect to your letter, and, in truth, your letter has waited longer than
it should take to answer. The reason is that this letter is one of
reproach, and, for as long as I have lived, I have had trouble putting
words of reproach into writing. Is not the primary difference between
something oral and something written that something written, compared to
something oral, is like an enduring world compared to a passing world (as
it is written [Yirmiyahu 32:14], "[Take these documents . . .] so that they
will endure for many years"). It is impossible to offer reproof without
putting on a cloak of [the midday / attribute of] justice. True, open
rebuke stems from hidden love [see Mishlei 27:5], but, when all is said and
done, the love is hidden and what is revealed is judgment. Certainly,
one's heart does not wish that it be said about the judgments associated
with the reproach, "so that they will endure for many years." This is the
difficulty which I feel when writing words of reproach.
But, when all is said and done, what can be done? Is not withholding
reproach also a strict judgment? [Nevertheless,] overcoming this
difficulty requires a long wait, and from this derives the lack of alacrity
in my response. May it be His will that the open rebuke quickly pass and,
as a result, the hidden love will be revealed.
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