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On two occasions, the Patriarchs made a treaty with Abimelech, King of the Philistines. And they were both initiated by Abimelech himself.
With Abraham, Abimelech left his own country (c.f. 21:32), with a plea for peace and goodwill. 'Show kindness towards me and [my] country where you once lived, just like I had shown kindness to you' (21:23). Abraham agreed, and then brought up the 'little matter' of the theft of his water source by Abimelech's servants, at the time he was resident in Abimelech's country. Sforno explains that Abraham rebuked Abimelech (21:24) for tolerating flagrant robbery in his own country.
However, Isaac was to suffer the same flagrant robbery (on a greater scale) in Abimelech's own country, causing him to leave his territory over the border to Beer-sheba. Again Abimelech left his own country, with a plea for peace and goodwill once more. This time, his line was: 'Let there be a covenant between us… that you will do us no harm, just as we… showed you only good, and sent you away in peace' (26:28-9).
What is unusual in both cases is that a monarch left his own territory in search of a nomadic (albeit wealthy) tribesman for his promise of peace and goodwill.
Abimelech brought G-d into his meeting on both occasions. With Abraham, he observed: 'G-d is with you in all that you do' (21:22). And he put it more strongly with Isaac: 'We have indeed seen that G-d has been with you' (26:28). And the context of the passages shows why that was so. Both Abraham and Isaac had servants whose digging successful exposed sources of water in Abimelech's own country. The Patriarchs servants accomplished where his own servants failed - and in due course, they became envious. And although there was a famine in the land, Isaac successfully farmed to 'a hundred-fold harvest. G-d had blessed him' (26:12).
Thus someone whom the Creator guided to riches and success was worth keeping on good terms with - as long as he was out of sight. G-d gave that person qualities which he might very well be put to good account again: 'Show kindness towards me and [my] country where you once lived.' But at the same time he had to act discreetly and not conduct that agreement on his own soil. Otherwise his people would become 'envious' (26:14), and they might well also lose the chance of taking the credit for themselves.
This picture illustrates the terms with different nations that the Jewish people have been on many times in their history. Their leaders have very quietly recognized the unique contributions they have made to their countries, yet they had to arrange matters in such a way as not to offend those they regarded as first-class citizens of their country. That makes political sense. However, the Jew is required to act in such a way as he does not take all the credit for the skills: giving the impression that 'my strength and the might of my hand acquired me all this wealth' (Deut. 8:17), but that his clients see that 'G-d is with him' in whatever he has achieved.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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