Israel the villian
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
In this week's Torah portion we read how our forefather Isaac was compelled to move to Gerar the land of the Phillistines because of a famine. Being a vulnerable stranger, Avimelech the king protects him by warning his subjects not to harm Isaac. With G-d's blessing and hard work Isaac becomes extremely wealthy, which causes the Phillistines to become envious to the extent that they stop up his wells. Avimelech eventually expels him from the land saying, "you have become wealthier than us".
Isaac moves to a new place but here too the hatred follows him and the locals contest his ownership over the wells that he has dug. G-d then appears to Isaac and tells him "not to fear because I am with you". After all this, Avimelech finds Isaac and asks him to enter into a peace treaty with him. When Isaac asks Avimelech why he has come after him after having banished him from his land, Avimelech responds "just as we only treated you well and sent you away in peace, you too do the same now".
This narrative reflects the pattern of anti-Semitism throughout our history. When Isaac first arrived he was treated badly because he was different, had nothing and was seen as a burden to society. Yet when he managed to "fit in" and succeeded in acquiring great wealth he was envied by the locals to the extent that he was banished from the land for "becoming stronger than us".
Our rabbis point out that the Hebrew word for "than us", "Mimenu" can also be translated as "from us". Avimelech"s claim was one all too familiar with us from our history amongst anti-Semites: All that wealth which you have acquired is "from us". Isaac's efforts and hard work are not taken into account at all but he is expelled because "you have become wealthy from us".
Another tactic typically employed by our enemies is to only lay claim once the hard work has already been done. Only once Isaac had laboured in the digging of the wells did they come along and claim the land in which the wells had been dug. They allowed him to dig, doing the hard work for them, and only afterwards did they come to steal that which he had achieved with his efforts.
Finally, when Avimelech comes after Isaac to make a peace treaty he explains that Isaac should make a pact with him because "we treated you well and sent you away in peace". The Midrash compares Avimelech to a lion with a bone stuck in its throat. The lion announces that whoever will manage to dislodge the bone will be greatly rewarded. A bird with a long neck sticks its beak down the throat of the lion and manages to remove the bone. When the bird approaches the lion asking for its reward the lion responds "is it not good enough for you that your head was in my mouth and I did not swallow you?". So too, says the Midrash, was Avimelech's claim to Isaac - "You were in my land and I could have killed you - but I expelled you in peace and for that you owe me a favour". Needless to say, Avimelech was not to be the only anti-Semite to come with such self-exoneration.
As missiles continue to rain down on our brethren in the Holy land the world media will continue to portray Israel as the aggressor - when it's clear that all Israel is doing is defending itself against dangerous terrorists bent on our destruction. But painting the Jew as the villain is nothing new. Anti-Semitism comes in many forms. Since the days of Isaac and Avimelech we have had to contend with this problem.
But we will continue to survive because just as G-d appeared to Isaac and told him "do not fear because I am with you" so too G-d continues to stand by our side and continuously tells us not to fear because He is always with us.