This is a (hopefully) daily series of short reflections in English on the daily chapter of Tanach in the (wonderful, wonderful) 929 Project. The initiative, and the ideas and opinions expressed here, are my own. If you haven’t heard of 929, you can learn more at 929.org.il
Le plus c’est la meme chose, le plus ca change. Chapter 26 reads like a rerun, but upon closer inspection, each similarity to the earlier story with Avraham actually emphasizes that there are two radically different world views animating the two stories, resulting in significantly different outcomes. Yitzchak sees the world from a paradigm of scarcity. There isn’t enough to go around, so fight for what’s yours and protect your own. It’s a rational position, especially during a famine, and it’s also self-reinforcing.
Once you start to look at the world in that way, the world naturally reacts in kind. Yitzchak’s suspicions feed the people of Grar’s suspicions, a cycle of mistrust is built, incessant bickering ensues, and respite can only be found in distance and disengagement. This wasn’t the plan. The Divine mission God sets out in the beginning of the chapter is for Yitzchak to bring blessing to the nations. But that mission depends on a radical, and even absurd belief in abundance, and the subsequent decision to give, rather than to take.
If you listen carefully, that’s exactly what God tells Yitzchak at the outset, and then repeats again in the middle of the chapter. And if you listen very carefully to chapters 20 and 21, you’ll hear that this is Avraham’s attitude, even as he faced identical circumstances. Avraham’s paradigm of chesed, his insistence on giving to the other, is revolutionary, and transformative for the people around him. It demands great bravery in the face of reality, and great faith in God’s promise. Only when Yitzchak is prepared to transcend the hatred he experienced, and prepare a feast for Avimelech, is he able to begin a paradigm shift, and with that shift, to begin to realize the Divine mission of bringing blessing to the world.