SALT - Wednesday, 26 Cheshvan 5778 - November 15, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Toldot tells of the agricultural success that Yitzchak enjoyed during the period he lived among the Philistines in Gerar, despite the harsh drought conditions that prevailed in the region at that time.  We read that in his first year in Gerar, his fields yielded “mei’a she’arim” (26:12), which is commonly translated as, “one-hundredfold.”  This translation is based on the familiar usage of the word “sha’ar” to mean “measure” or “rate,” such that the expression “mei’a she’arim” refers to one-hundred times the anticipated or normal quantity that Yitzchak’s lands should have produced.
            However, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch observes that the word “sha’ar” has this meaning only in rabbinic literature, but not in Biblical Hebrew.  Throughout the Tanakh, Rav Hirsch writes, the word “sha’ar” means “gate,” or, as in Sefer Melakhim II (7:1), a marketplace, which was often located near the entrance to the city.  Accordingly, Rav Hirsch maintains that in the Torah’s description of Yitzchak’s yield, too, the word “she’arim” must be understood to mean “markets.”  He explains that Yitzchak’s lands produced one-hundred stocks of merchandise; meaning, his agricultural enterprise yielded one-hundred times the normal amount that he would bring to the market for sale. 
            Rav Hirsch adds that the conclusion of this verse – “and the Lord blessed him” – should be understood on this basis.  Intuitively, we might have assumed that the Torah here simply gives us perspective on Yitzchak’s remarkable success, attributing it to God’s special assistance.  Rav Hirsch, however, explains the conclusion of this verse differently.  He writes, “Inasmuch as he did not usuriously hoard up the blessing but brought it out generously to the markets, in that year of famine used his blessing to the general good, he becomes recognized as the man blessed by God.”  According to Rav Hirsch’s reading, Yitzchak was considered “blessed” not because of his unusually large yield, but because he turned his large yield into one-hundred “she’arim,” making the produce available in the marketplace during a period of shortage.  Material prosperity alone does not make a person “blessed.”  True blessing is when a person becomes a vehicle for other people’s blessings, when one is given wealth which is then shared with others and used for the general welfare.