Yitzchak sowed in that land, and he reaped in that year hundredfold, and Hashem blessed him. (26:12)
The above verse describes Yitzchak’s extraordinary success in the land of P’lishtim. Rashi explains that reaping hundredfold means that he reaped 100 times more than he had estimated his land would produce.
Why did Yitzchak bother to assess his land’s yield before sowing? Rashi, quoting Raboseinu (our Sages—Bereishis Rabbah 64:6), explains that he assessed in order to know how much ma’aser (tithes—a tenth of a field’s yield is designated for the poor) his property would yield. Tosafos HaShalem, quoting Riva, explains that it was a year of drought. Yitzchak wished to allocate his tithe as soon as possible, so he estimated the entire year’s crop before it was harvested. Accordingly, the assessment must have been done when at least some of the produce was already close to ripening—as Yitzchak wished to give his very first produce to the poor. It is exceptional that land assessed at such an advanced stage of growth could yield 100 times more than it was first assessed!
Mizrachi seems to understand that the field was assessed before it was sowed. It was customary, he writes, to estimate a field’s yield in order to determine in advance how much ma’aser would have to be set aside. Why was this customary? What purpose did it serve, if the tithes could not be separated until after the produce had ripened?
It is written (Iyov/Job 41:3), “Whoever preceded Me, him I shall reward— for whatever is under all the heavens is Mine!” The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 27:2) explains this cryptic verse as follows:
“‘Whoever preceded Me, him I shall reward,’—Who put up a mezuzah before I gave him a house? Who built a Sukkah before I gave him a place upon which to build it? Who performed the mitzvah of tzitzis before I gave him clothing?”
Hashem seems to be registering a grievance: People only do mitzvos after He gives them the wherewithal. But are they indeed to blame? The nature of the world is such that our mitzvos are completely dependent on Hashem’s grace. This is no fault of ours. The Midrash gives another example, “Who praised me before I imbued him with a soul?” In what manner can one be expected to “precede Hashem?”
Be’er Mayim Chaim (parshas Ki Seitze) explains that we are not dealing with a question of deed, but rather one of priority and intent. True, one cannot put up mezuzos before being given a house. But when he builds his house, whom does he call first; the dry-waller or the sofer? Which item is first on our clothing lists; coats, hats, or tzitzis? Where do our priorities lie; is our material well-being an afterthought to our mitzvah performance, or are our mitzvos afterthought to our material needs and desires?
Although we can not precede Hashem in ma’aseh, in tangible mitzvah performance, we can precede Him in machshavah, by making “Hashem’s share” in the things we do our number-one priority, and by seeking ways to use the things Hashem gives us to perform mitzvos and bring honour to the Torah.
Perhaps this is why Yitzchak assessed his fields for ma’aser even before sowing them. Although his assessment served little practical purpose, as one cannot give yet-unsown produce to the poor, it was his way of giving expression to his intense desire to serve Hashem through his material possessions. Planting seeds was for him a necessity to provide for his family’s needs, but it was not the prospect of personal wealth and prosperity that made him excited. If he could use his produce to observe the obligation of tithes—to perform mitzvos—then it was all worthwhile.
If Yitchak “preceded Hashem” by thinking primarily about the mitzvos that would result from his success, he was apparently rewarded by Hashem in keeping with the end of the same verse: “Him, I will reward.” He reaped 100 times more than he had imagined!
“And Hashem blessed him.” He had already reaped hundredfold -what more could he possibly ask for? I was once in a grocery, and watched in amazement as an extraordinarily wealthy man bought himself a lottery ticket. “Tell me,” he asked the teller, “if I win, can I pick up my winnings here, or do I have to go to the head-office?” What reason could he possibly have had for buying a lottery ticket? Alas, this is the nature of man: “One who has a hundred wants two… (Koheles Rabbah 1:34)” To achieve great material success is one thing; to appreciate it is another.
And Hashem blessed him—Yitzchak felt truly blessed. He was not consumed by the greed and insatiability that often accompanies monetary success. Since Yitzchak’s primary goal was to do mitzvos with his possessions, and not self-satisfaction and indulgence, he was able to fully enjoy his successes.