Yitzchak’s stay in Gerar is quite a story of conflict, as Perek 26 relates in detail. First Avimelech, king of Gerar, almost takes his wife; next the Pelishtim stop up his wells; then Avimelech evicts him from his land; and jealous Pelishti shepherds seize two wells that Yitzchak’s servants dig. Finally, in Pasuk 22, Yitzchak manages to dig a well without any contention. He gratefully calls this well “Rechovot,” because “now Hashem has granted us space and we have been fruitful in the land.”
Immediately after this incident, the Torah relates, “Vayeira Eilav Hashem…Vayomer, ‘Anochi Elokei Avraham Avicha; Al Tira, Ki Itecha Anochi, UVeirachticha…Baavur Avraham Avdi,’” “Hashem appeared to [Yitzchak]…and He said, ‘I am the God of Avraham your father. Do not fear, for I am with you…because of Avraham My servant’” (26:24). This Pasuk seems very puzzling. Why would Hashem suddenly have to reassure Yitzchak now? Is this not merely repeating the same sort of affirmation he made to Yitzchak earlier in the Perek (Pesukim 2-5)?
Ramban and Seforno both explain Hashem’s reassurance in terms of the preceding conflict with the Pelishtim. Ramban believes that after Avimelech has driven him away and the shepherds have fought with him, Yitzchak is afraid of a direct attack by the Pelishtim, so Hashem promises him protection. Seforno similarly comments that Hashem is relieving Yitzchak’s fears that the fights with the Pelishtim will result in loss of property. Both of these explanations share a problem, though. Hashem makes this promise immediately after Yitzchak stops having fights with the Pelishtim; two Pesukim earlier, he comments that Hashem has finally “granted him space.” Additionally, Yitzchak has actually just moved out of the land of the Pelishtim to Be’er Sheva (26:23), where presumably he is in much less danger of attack, and certainly of damage from quarrels. Clearly, if Hashem is delivering this message because of the danger of the Pelishtim, he should have done so earlier. Thus, the question stands: what compels Hashem to reaffirm His promise to Yitzchak now?
Another question arises from the reasons Hashem seems to give for protecting Yitzchak. Twice, He emphasizes His relationship with Avraham, and even states that He is “with [Yitzchak]…because of Avraham My servant.” Why does Hashem only mention Avraham’s greatness, and not Yitzchak’s own merit? Indeed, when Hashem previously made a similar promise to Avraham, He said, “Do not fear, Avram, I am a shield for you; your reward is very great” (15:1), referring to Avraham’s own merit as the reason for protection. Why does He not do the same for Yitzchak? Yitzchak certainly has his own great store of merit; in fact, Haamek Davar believes that the last well Yitzchak dug succeeded because he brought his own spiritual weight to bear by personally involving himself in the digging, and not just leaving it to his servants. At the very least, then, Hashem should say that He is protecting Yitzchak both in his own merit and in that of his father. Why is only the latter mentioned?
Perhaps both questions can be answered in light of the difference between Avraham’s and Yitzchak’s styles of serving Hashem. Throughout his life, Avraham was the ultimate Mekareiv; wherever he went, he would be “Korei BeSheim Hashem,” “calling out in the Name of Hashem,” which, as many commentators note, seems to mean that he would spread the message of monotheism. Yitzchak, on the other hand, has historically been more introverted. His greatness, at least up to this point, lay in his personal relationship with Hashem, but not in how he related to other people. In the past several episodes recorded by the Torah, he has been remarkably passive, silently letting his fate be determined by the whims of the Pelishtim. Nowhere up to this point is Yitzchak described as being actively Korei BeSheim Hashem as his father was.
At this point, however, things begin to change. After all the passivity of the previous section, Hashem decides to intervene and point out to Yitzchak the necessity of strengthening this attribute of actively advocating for monotheism. Therefore, He comes to him just after he has moved to Be’er Sheva, Avraham’s home base for his outreach activities (see 21:33 and 22:19), and stresses that the blessings He promised Avraham are sure to fall to Yitzchak – but only because of the type of service that Avraham, not Yitzchak, represented. This may also be why He refers to Avraham as “Avdi,” “My servant”: it is Avraham’s approach to serving Hashem that leads to His protection and blessing.
Yitzchak apparently takes this message to heart. Right away, he builds a Mizbeiach and, for the first time, is Korei BeSheim Hashem (26:25; see 12:8 and 13:4 for the close parallel language regarding Avraham). He is then approached by Avimelech for a covenant in the same manner that Avraham was in 21:22-34. He takes the opportunity to reaffirm the good will between Avraham’s family (i.e. Yitzchak) and Avimelech, and even to strengthen it. Yitzchak even names the place Be’er Sheva a second time, again repeating his father’s actions. Finally, after a brief interjection about Eisav, the Torah describes how Yitzchak realizes that he will have to play an active role in passing Avraham’s legacy to his descendants. He takes the initiative in calling his son (the wrong son for the job, certainly, but his son nonetheless) to pass on to him the mission and the blessings that he received through Avraham. The stories following Hashem’s promise, then, collectively show that Yitzchak accepts Hashem’s veiled rebuke, making himself a stronger, more active carrier of the message of monotheism to other people.
Of course, the importance of including other people as part of one’s service to Hashem is not only a message for Yitzchak, but for people of all generations. Indeed, as Rabbi Chaim Jachter developed extensively in his Shiurim at TABC, the same message is expressed through Noach, Yitro, Moshe, and others (see Rav Moshe Lichtenstein’s Tzir VaTzon for further discussion of this issue with regard to Moshe). We can never settle for a two-way relationship with Hashem. Our spirituality and Avodat Hashem are incomplete unless we strive to include others in them, as well. But if we do actively reach out to others, we will surely merit the blessings that Hashem promised to Avraham, Yitzchak, and all their descendants.