In the Torah portion Toldos we read1 that “Yitzchak sowed that land, and reaped that year a hundredfold.” The Midrash notes2 that Yitzchak measured the yield in order to tithe his crops.

In Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer ,3 however, we find the following comment: “Can it be that Yitzchak planted grain, Heaven forfend?! Rather, he took a tenth of all his wealth and implanted tzedakah — he distributed it to the poor.”

Why does Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer find it so difficult to imagine Yitzchak planting crops? Commentaries explain4 that since the Patriarchs were shepherds and wandered from place to place, it would have been impractical for any of them to sow seeds, as that requires remaining in one area for a considerable time.

But even if this were so, what is so devastating about the idea of Yitzchak’s planting crops that the expression “Heaven forfend!” is used?

Moreover, we see that according to the Midrash , Yitzchak did indeed plant crops. Even if we were to say that these are two different opinions, they cannot be diametrically opposed.5 How is it possible that according to the Midrash Yitzchak did plant crops, while according to Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer , “Can it be that Yitzchak planted grain, Heaven forfend?!

We must perforce say that according to Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer as well, the simple meaning of the verse is that Yitzchak planted crops, for a verse can always be understood in its simple context.6

When Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer states “Can it be that Yitzchak planted grain, Heaven forfend?! Rather, he… implanted tzedakah ” it intends to reveal the inner content and purpose of Yitzchak’s planting:

With regard to the Patriarchs it is stated:7 “The Patriarchs are truly the [Divine] Chariot,8 for all their organs were completely holy and detached from mundane matters. Throughout their lives they served as vehicles for the Divine Will.”

Thus, with regard to our Patriarch Yitzchak, Heaven forfend that the ultimate purpose of his planting was merely to raise crops. Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer therefore states that although Yitzchak’s physical actions were surely those of planting crops, his inner purpose was to tithe the harvest and distribute tzedakah.

Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer , however, does not pose its question concerning the Patriarchs’ chief physical occupation; it never asks “Were the Patriarchs shepherds, Heaven forfend?!” They chose to become shepherds for the very fact that shepherding is not taxing, and they were thus able to concentrate on their service to G‑d.9

Farming, however, is both physically and mentally taxing, something that in itself inhibits divine service. It is thus necessary to inform us that Yitzchak’s labor was not, Heaven forfend, one of simple farming, but a preparation for the mitzvah of tithing, since tithes must be given from one’s own crops.10 Yitzchak’s planting was thus not one of “planting grain” but truly that of “implanting tzedakah.”

Yitzchak’s physical planting of crops may indeed be linked to the statement in the Mishnah11 that if one carries out food on Shabbos in a vessel holding less than the amount necessary to incur guilt for carrying from a private domain to a public domain, he is then not only guiltless of carrying the food, but is also guiltless of carrying the vessel; since the vessel is wholly subordinate to the food it holds, it is considered as if he did not carry it at all.

Yitzchak’s physical planting, too, was so subordinated to the spiritual goal of tzedakah that he did not “plant grain,” rather he “implanted tzedakah ” — throughout their lives, the Patriarchs served as “vehicles for the Divine Will.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. V, pp. 68-74.