26:20 And the shepherds of Gerar fought with Yitzchak’s shepherds, saying: ‘The water is ours.’ And he called the name of the well Esek; because they contended with him.
Sometimes people find themselves bogged down in some kind of argument and no matter what they try to do, it seems that they cannot extricate themselves from the situation. It may very well be that they are arguing about one thing, even though the point of contention seems to be something else. Unfortunately, some people have a very self-centered disposition: When they see another person doing well in life (he is getting a raise, even though they work at a different company; winning a lottery, even though they didn’t enter, etc.) a plethora of negative emotions – anger, jealousy, envy, etc.) – rush through them, even though the other person’s success costs them nothing. This is called “tzoros ayin.” Therefore, when one is negotiating with this type of person, he won’t be successful – what seems to be the issue, really isn’t.
Yitzchak’s servants dug a well but found a spring (a well does not generate water and can dry up, but a spring constantly brings forth new water and rarely dries up). As such, they could take water from it, and there would still be plenty of water available for others. As this spring was found in the middle of nowhere, why should others begrudge Yitzchak if he is benefiting from it?
The Ben Ish Chai explains that this character trait of tzoros ayin existed in the shepherds of Gerar. They could not live with the good fortune of Yitzchak and therefore conspired to get the spring away from him. Even if they could share it or even if they didn’t need it, they were not going to be satisfied as long as Yitzchak had it. However, proper etiquette does not permit one to make such a statement and then take action, so they therefore schemed a cover-up. They set up a small altercation, then escalated it to the point that the shepherds of Gerar were at odds with the shepherds of Yitzchak. Thus, all observers could easily see that Yitzchak’s shepherds were the “enemies” of the shepherds of Gerar. Now that Yitzchak’s shepherds were the “enemy”, the shepherds of Gerar could then claim that the enemy took their spring. First, they created the atmosphere which gave them the right to be justified to complain about Yitzchaks’ taking possession, and then all the actions by the shepherds of Gerar would be considered “righteous”, because “all is fair in love and war”.
Though this idea does indeed sound ugly, I am sure we have encountered these types of thoughts as well. Perhaps it is worthwhile questioning ourselves, if we in fact have thought these types of feelings about others: turning them into the enemy and then trying to take away a benefit that they had, even though their having it was at no cost to us. I would like to suggest that if one would take a different attitude, we could overcome this. The antidote can be found in the pasuk with the word “rechovot”, which means expansive and unrestrained (as in having enough for yourself and still having leftovers): Allowing another Jew to benefit from the good that he has, and being happy that your fellow Jew is benefitting from something, will allow you to be a happy person. Not only will this good characteristic bring about comradery, but you, in your own endeavors, will be content with what you have.