Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig



The shepherds of Gerar fought with the shepherds of Yitzchak saying "the water is ours". He called the well Esek because they quarreled with him. They dug another well and they fought over it also. He called it Sitna. He dug another well, and they did not fight over it. He called it Rechovos and said "Now Hashem has granted us wide space and we can be fruitful in the land". (Bereishis 26:20-22).

The Ramban asks, what is the purpose of this story? He answers that the three wells represent the three Batei Mikdash, the home of Hashem, the Source of freshwater (Yirmiyahu 17:13). The first was destroyed when our enemies quarreled and went to war with us, hence Esek. The second suffered sitna, Satanic hatred, from its very inception, when our enemies wrote sitna to stop its construction (Ezra 4:6). The third will be rebuilt when Hashem broadens our land (Devarim 19:8) without any fight.

The Kli Yakar focuses instead on infighting within Am Yisrael. During the period of the first Beis Hamikdash our shepherds, i.e. our leaders, fought (Yoma 9b, Bach #5). It was destroyed because of the fight between the kings of Yisrael and the kings of Yehuda. The war between our own kings led to the war of foreign kings represented by the shepherds of Gerar. Esek means a quarrel over property, wells in Yitzchak's time and sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael during the first Beis Hamikdash.

During the second Beis Hamikdash the scourge of sinas chinam, baseless hatred, spread to all of Am Yisrael. Without any Esek, anything to fight over, the people hated each other. The Satan enticed them to find fault in one another. Therefore, the shepherds are not mentioned in the story of the second well and it is called Sitna, referring to the Satan of baseless hatred and infighting.

The third Beis Hamidkash will rebuilt by the Mashiach who will bring endless peace (Yeshayahu 9:6). When people fight, they cannot coexist even in a huge city, a common problem even today (the Kli Yakar's time). When there is peace, even when we are fruitful and there are many inhabitants, the land is wide enough and no one feels cramped (See Sanhedrin 7a).


Every generation in which the Beis Hamikdash is not rebuilt is viewed as if that generation destroyed it (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1). Infighting within Am Yisrael, and within each section and subsection, is, unfortunately, a common problem in our time as well. To hasten the rebuilding of the Beis Hamidkash, and to not be viewed as destroying it, we must avoid the mistakes of the past, both nationally and individually.

The first king to split Eretz Yisrael into two kingdoms was the infamous Yeravam ben Nevat. When Hashem told him "Back off, and I, you, and Kind David will walk together in Gan Eden", Yeravam asked "Mi barosh - Who will walk first?" When Hashem answered "David will go first", Yeravam responded "If so, I don't want" (Sanhedrin 102a). The perennial problem of "Mi barosh - Who will walk first?", the origin of the infighting which destroyed the first Beis Hamikdash, continues to plague the leaders of our nation and it sections and subsections.

Sadly, some rabbinic leaders squabble over Esek, the property and honor of controlling communities. The worlds of Chasidim (See Who Will Lead Us, by Samuel Heilman) and Yeshivos have been embroiled in protracted controversies, sometimes leading to fisticuffs, police involvement, and chilul Hashem. Followers of these leaders, and certainly followers of these events from the outside, should avoid these fights and seek peace whenever possible.

Sitna, baseless hatred, leads, as the Kli Yakar notes, to finding fault in others. As individuals, we should, in the famous words of R' Eliemelech of Lizhensk, see the good in others and not their shortcomings. One who feels that his way is the only way to serve Hashem is in danger of improperly distancing himself from others and even harming them by viewing them as heretics (Netziv, Mesihiv Davar 1:44).

Talmidei Chachamim, despite their disagreements, should exhibit love and friendship toward one another, as Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel did (Yevamos 14b). Some rabbis put down all others except for their own adherents. This is inappropriate and can lead to dangerous and even cult-like behavior, especially in cases of charismatic personalities. One should avoid such leaders and instead cleave unto true talmidei chachomim who, despite disagreements with others on halachic and hashkafic matters, honor one another (See Rashi Devarim 11:22).

Every person, and certainly every leader, should avoid Esek and Sitna, and thereby hasten Rechovos, the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, hopefully in our own generation.

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