The Torah in Parashat Toldot tells of Yitzchak’s experiences while living among and then near the Pelishtim during a period of drought in Canaan. Yitzchak enjoyed exceptional success farming despite the harsh conditions, arousing the jealousy of the local Philistine population, as a result of which he was driven from the region of Gerar where he had taken residence. Settling nearby, the Torah writes, Yitzchak dug anew precious wells of water which his father, Avraham, had dug years earlier but were subsequently filled with earth by the Pelishtim: “Yitzchak dug anew the wells of water which were dug in the times of his father, Avraham, and which the Pelishtim stuffed after Avraham’s death, filling them with earth, and he gave them names like the names which his father called them” (26:18).
Numerous writers over the centuries have suggested that this account alludes to something deeper than Yitzchak’s struggles to find water in an arid region during a period of drought. Various different approaches have been taken in an attempt to identify the possible symbolic meaning of these wells, and of the fact that Yitzchak dug the same wells which his father had dug.
One such theory is advanced by Rav Yechezkel of Shinova, in Divrei Yechezkel, where he explains that Yitzchak’s style and approach in serving God differed from Avraham’s. The Divrei Yechezkel suggests that the Pelishtim’s rejection of Yitzchak, driving him from their region, alludes to the scorn and contempt with which people regarded Yitzchak for deviating from his father’s style. They accused Yitzchak of violating and betraying Avraham’s legacy by not being precisely like Avraham. The Divrei Yechezkel further proposes that the stuffing of Avraham’s wells by the Pelishtim alludes to the accusation leveled against Yitzchak that he was reversing the progress made his father. But Yitzchak insisted on giving his “wells” the same names which Avraham gave his wells – meaning, he insisted that his unique style and approach also bore the “name” of authentic and genuine service of God, even though it differed drastically from Avraham’s. The significance of Yitzchak’s wells having the same names as Avraham’s wells, the Divrei Yechezkel explains, is that there are different paths to greatness and different styles of greatness, and they are all legitimate. Yitzchak’s approach was no less valid or authentic than Avraham’s, and thus his wells were given the same names as Avraham’s.
Of course, not everything people do in the name of religion is necessarily valid; there are, undoubtedly, boundaries of legitimate religious expression that must not be crossed. However, the Divrei Yechezkel here teaches us that there is more than one valid approach, that greatness comes in different styles, and that one person’s path in his service of God does not necessarily have to precisely resemble everybody else’s. Just as Yitzchak was able to give his “wells” the same names as his father’s, affirming that his approach to avodat Hashem was no less valid than Avraham’s, we are all encouraged to find our individual paths, maximizing our personal talents and unique potential, working together under the joint “name” of serving our Creator.