A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being a delegate at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem representing the Arzenu faction (as an ARZA delegate from the USA). This trip was challenging, thought provoking, inspiring, uplifting, and depressing all in one. While it was wonderful to be together with Jews from around the world at this historic gathering; at the same time it was very difficult to hear from Members of Knesset and Israelis, both on the right and on the left, who saw little hope for optimism and little prospect of peace.
At this time we might think back to this week's Torah portion about the challenges of making peace in the land of Israel. Isaac is the one patriarch who never leaves the land. Despite the fact that there was a famine in the land God appeared to Isaac and said "Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land which I point out to you. 3 Reside in this land, and I will be with you and bless you." Isaac knows that his destiny is to stay in the land of Israel and he does this throughout his life. But it is not always easy.
We read that Isaac grew rich until he was very wealthy acquiring flocks, herds, and a large household. His success comes at a price as we read that the Philistines envied him and so they "stopped up all the wells which his father's servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham." Rather than seeking conflict Isaac moves on to another place; but again the Philistines come and they dispute with him and block up his wells. So he moves again, trying to avoid conflict.
Eventually we reach the point where Avimelech comes to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath, his councilor, and Phicol, the chief of his troops. Understandably Isaac appears skeptical and says to them: "Why have you come to me, seeing that you have been hostile to me and have driven me away from you?" Their responses show that something has changed: "We now see plainly that Adonai has been with you, and we thought: Let there be a sworn treaty between our two parties, between you and us. Let us make a pact with you that you will not do us harm, just as we have not molested you but have always dealt kindly with you and sent you away in peace. From now on, be you blessed of Adonai!"
Having read the previous passages we know that this is not necessarily an accurate retelling of what has happened and we know that there has been tension and enmity between Isaac and Avimelech. And yet, at this moment, as Avimelech comes seeking peace they are able to make peace together and exchange oaths, departing from one another in peace. Both sides need to recognize that the other is going nowhere. And only then, sitting down as enemies, were they able to make a pact and make peace; allowing each other to live in the land side by side.
In advance of Avimelech coming to visit him I doubt Isaac envisaged that peace would ever be possible. And yet somehow they found a way to make peace - a challenge which still eludes us today. Hopefully we can follow in their footsteps.