“But when Isaac’s servants, digging in the wadi, found there a well of spring water, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, 'The water is ours.' He named that well Esek, because they contended with him. And when they dug another well, they disputed over that one also, so he named it Sitnah. He moved from there and dug yet another well, and they did not quarrel over it, so he called it Rehoboth, saying, 'Now at last the Eternal has granted us ample space to increase in the land.'" (Genesis 26:19-22)
It seems to be a timeless story – how to make room for each other in an area with scarce resources. Isaac’s solution is to keep moving. The Malbim, 19th century Bible scholar Meir Lob Ben Yehiel Michal, taught that “Isaac ‘moved from there’ after seeing that the herdsmen from Gerar continued to struggle with him over the land, and it is honorable for a person to dwell without strife. (Isaac) distanced himself far from them, and at that point the quarrel ceased.” (Malbim, Genesis 26:22)
We see from the Malbim’s teaching that for Isaac sought to dwell without strife. His desire for peace between the herdsmen was achieved when they physically separated. Not once. Not twice. But the third time enough distance was put between them that peace was accomplished. They tried to dig new sources of water so that they would not be in need of or in conflict with the neighboring shepherds for the existing sources, but their first two efforts failed. More distance was needed between them. Sometimes distance and separation are the only solutions in peacemaking.
As we read this, we recall Abraham’s offer to his nephew, Lot, when the land was not large enough to support them both “… and there was quarreling between their herdsmen… And Abraham said, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me… Let us separate…’” (Genesis 13:7-9)
In peace making, sometimes physical separation is the only possibility. And yet, we would hope that there is a “higher” level of possibility. The question is: how can the land, whatever its dimensions, be expansive enough for everyone to dwell in peace? And to this day, we continue to search for the answers.
Rabbi Enid C. Lader is the rabbi at Beth Israel-The West Temple in Cleveland.