Avrohom in his day was popular and respected. He is referred to as a prince of G-d by the children of Chais who sold him the cave of Machpelah. Anti Semitism per se was not yet something he had to deal with. The same was not true with Yitzchok. Yitzchok found himself in Geror during times of famine. His relationship with the Plishtim who lived there was not as Avrohom’s was in his days.
“And Yitzchok planted in that land and he found in that year (a yield of) one hundred fold (more than he expected), and G-d blessed him. And the man grew continually until he became very great…and the Plishtim were jealous of him” (Genesis 26:12-14). As a result, Yitzchok was ordered to leave because he was obscuring the wealth and greatness of the king. “And Yitzchok went and redug the wells which they dug in the days of Avrohom his father…and they found there a well of running water…and the shepherds of Geror contended with with Yitzchok’s shepherds saying ‘the water belongs to us’, and he called the well ‘strife’ because they contended with him. And they dug another well, and they contended for it as well, and he called its name ‘adversity'” (ibid. 26:19-21).
Yitzchok suffered. He had flocks. They needed water. Every time he went to the trouble of digging a well, it was claimed by the Plishtim. How did he react to his suffering? He gave names to the wells. Then he moved on until he eventually found a source of water he could use freely. What is the significance of naming the wells? How was this a way of dealing with the situation? The following passage can provide an approach. “This nation I have created for Me, they shall declare my praise” (Isaiah 43:21). Yitzchok understood his purpose in life. “They shall declare my praise.”
Many times we find names being given to people, places, and things in the scriptures. In each case the one giving the name intends to point to G-d’s involvement in the given event. (See the naming of the twelve tribes, Genesis 29-30). Here, however, is the first time we see this occur in relation to suffering. This was Yitzchok’s unique contribution. He publicized his acceptance of his suffering and his acquiescence to G-d’s wisdom. Yitzchok was telling the world for all generations that suffering is purposeful, and he acknowledged G-d for it.
The Jewish nation was blessed to have in its midst the great sage Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, of blessed memory. His life was one completely dedicated to Torah. He actually left a haven in America in 1939, and journeyed back to Europe so as not to leave his beloved students in times of trouble. Before he was taken prisoner in Kovno, and shot by Lithuanian Police in July 1941, he spoke to some who shared in the horrifying experience. Survivors who were present during those last days shared his holy words with us.*
A man completely ignorant of agriculture came to a farmer requesting to be taught about farming. The farmer showed him his field and asked him “what do you see?” “I see a beautiful piece of land, lush with grass, and pleasing to the eye.” Then the visitor stood aghast as he watched the farmer plow the grass under and turn the field into a mass of shallow brown ditches. “Why did you ruin the field!” he demanded. “Be Patient. You will see,” said the farmer. Then the farmer showed his guest a sackful of plump kernels of wheat and said, “tell me what you see.” The visitor described the nutritious, inviting grain — and then, watched in shock as the farmer “ruined” it, walking up and down the furrows dropping kernels of grain into the open ground, and covering them with soil. “Are you insane!” demanded the man. “Be patient. You will see.” After some time the farmer brought the guest out to see the beautiful field lined with straight, green stalks sprouting up from the furrows. “I apologize. Now I understand what you were doing. You’ve made the field more beautiful than ever. The art of farming is truly marvelous.” “No,” said the farmer. “We’re still not done. You must still be patient.” When the stalks were fully grown the farmer came with a sickle and cut them all down while his guest stood open-mouthed as the field became a scene of destruction. The farmer bundled the grain and left it to dry in the field. Later, he gathered the bundles to a place where he beat and crushed them until all of the grains were separated from the straw. Then he piled the grain into a huge hill. The farmer always answered the protests of his guest saying “be patient.” The grain was taken to a mill where it was ground into formless, choking dust. Again the shocked guest was told to be patient. The guest then marveled at the foolishness of making white mud out of the dust and then shaping it into a loaf. After placing the loaf into the oven, the guest asked the farmer, “after all that work will you take it all and burn it?” “Have I not told you to be patient?” asked the farmer. When the loaf was taken out of the oven and the guest was offered a liberally buttered slice, the farmer said “now you understand, my dear friend.”
Yitzchok teaches us to be patient. He teaches us that “The Farmer” understands even if we don’t. Naming the wells is the most appropriate way of dealing with the negative experience Yitzchok underwent. Yitzchok was able to transcend his suffering and turn it into a positive, purposeful, healthy experience. May we all merit to follow his example.
*The story is paraphrased from Reb Elchonon, The Artscroll History Series.