In the middle segment of this week’s Parashah, Yitzchak and his servants are strangely preoccupied with the pursuit of digging for natural springs. While dwelling in Gerar and its surrounding environs, Yitzchak reopens the springs that were dug during the days of Avraham but were subsequently sealed by the Pelishtim during the intervening years (BeReishit 26:15). His servants discover two additional natural springs that the shepherds of Gerar proceeded to quarrel over, and are thus named Eisek and Sitnah (26:20-21). After searching slightly farther from the inhabited area near Gerar, his servants uncover one more spring that goes uncontested and is named Rechovot, signifying their successful and opportunistic find (26:22). Finally, after relocating in Be’eir Sheva, Yitzchak’s servants dig and locate yet another live spring which they name Shiv’ah (26:25,33).
The Midrash Rabbah (64:8) quotes an intriguing debate concerning the precise number of springs that Yitzchak and his servants uncover and the underlying symbolism of their discovery. Rav Yehudah states that there are four springs, corresponding to Yitzchak’s children, who dwell in four primary encampments while traveling in the desert. The Rabbanan disagree and assert that, in fact, five springs are discovered, corresponding to the five books of the Torah (see Midrash Rabbah for the exact division of the springs mentioned in our Parashah, and the correspondence between each named spring and the various books of the Torah).
On the surface, the symbolic representation of Torah in the form of natural springs is sensible and familiar to us. Torah is often compared to water, generally, and, more specifically, to the water of a natural spring. Like water, the study of Torah is an elementary life force that sustains us and is a basic necessity for human existence. And like the discovery of a natural spring, initial painstaking effort must be exerted; however, the payoff of tapping into the reservoir of the life-sustaining, deep-running waters of Torah is endless. The correlation between Yitzchak’s discovery of natural springs and the four encampments in the desert, though, requires explanation.
Yitzchak’s relocation to Gerar and the accompanying episode of the springs is bookended by Hashem’s two prophetic appearances to Yitzchak. Before Yitzchak settles in Gerar, Hashem appears to him and encourages him to remain in Eretz Yisrael. Hashem professes that He will accompany Yitzchak and bless him with great progeny and the inheritance of the land (26:2-5). Yitzchak’s success in Gerar, though, engenders jealousy and defensiveness from the threatened local population; he is banished from the land (26:12-16). Exiled, he and his servants discover two springs that are immediately contested and seized by local Pelishtim. Undeterred by the dissonance between Hashem’s promise and the challenges he encountered, Yitzchak persists with determination and steely resistance. Eventually, Yitzchak experiences a modicum of success which he takes as a sign of assurance that Hashem has finally expanded his station in the land. Yitzchak’s gritty determination and perseverance is buoyed by Hashem’s second appearance to him, toward the end of the section, in which Hashem reassures Yitzchak that He remains with him and will continue to bless him (26:24). In response to this heartening expression of accompaniment and support, Yitzchak is able to erect a Mizbei’ach and call out in the name of Hashem (26:25). Subsequently, he and his servants successfully discover an additional live spring to provide them with water.
The Netziv explains (26:18,22) that Yitzchak’s determination, perseverance, and ultimate success despite his initial experience of challenge and banishment is symbolic of the Jew’s experience of Galut throughout the ages. At times, the seizure of land and property is accompanied by a deceitful claim, as it is in the digging of the spring Eisek, while, at other times, it is simply misappropriated without any feigned attempt at justification, like in the case of Sitnah. The trials and travails of Galut, however, when weathered with unfaltering dedication and a steadfast commitment to Hashem even in the most dire of circumstances, ultimately gives way to the blossoming of Hashem’s blessing. The Jewish people are then able to experience success “in the place of their banishment, in a manner that exceeds their ability in their prior location.”
In a similar vein, Ramban (26:20-22 s.v. VaYikra Shem HaBe’eir Eisek) wonders what compelled the Torah to elaborate upon the discovery of natural springs when, on the surface, the details of the incidents provide no benefit nor do they add to Yitzchak’s prestige. The natural springs, argues Ramban, are representative of the Beit Elokim, the Beit HaMikdash. Whereas the first two Batei Mikdash were contested and eventually destroyed, the third Beit HaMikdash, paralleling the third spring Rechovot, will be unchallenged and will serve as the harbinger for the expansion of our boundaries and the universal recognition of Hashem by all nations.
Yitzchak’s efforts in this week Parashah, then, serve as a model for the Jew’s experience of Galut during all generations. Like the Jews encamped in the desert, the forward march toward our collective destiny is oftentimes seemingly derailed by challenges and obstacles that block the path. Like Yitzchak, we must live with an unwavering determination, confident in the eventual fulfillment of Hashem’s promises despite whatever setbacks we might experience. We must live with a sense of “Ki Itecha Anochi” (26:24), that Hashem is with us, even during our moments of darkness and despair. With perseverance and determination, the blessings of “Ki Atah Hirchiv Hashem Lanu UFarinu VaAretz,” “For now Hashem has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land” (26:22) will hopefully be realized, giving us even greater confidence to erect our own Mizbachot and to call out in the name of Hashem.