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In parshat Toldot, we see a number of situations that occur to Yitzhak that are (almost) identical to those that occurred to his father, Avraham. Examples:

  • There is a famine. Yitzchak seeks to go to Egypt, except that G-d tells him not to. (Genesis 26:1-6)
  • When he goes to Gerar, he tells everyone that Rivka is his sister instead of his wife. Same excuse or for the same reasoning that Avrham said that when he went to Gerar. (Genesis 26:7)
  • The people stuffed up the wells that Avraham dug, and they then stole the wells that Yitzhak dug himself. (Genesis 26:15-21)
  • Avimelech makes a covenant with Yitzhak like he did with Avraham. (Genesis 26:26-31)

When Avimelech made the covenant with Avraham, he reproves Avimelech about the wells that he / his people stole. Yitzhak doesn't do as his father did. Why not?

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    Avraham was more "at an advantage" as G-d had admonished Avimelech in his sleep for taking Sara and had then gone to Avraham for a blessing to heal him after G-d had closed his orifices. Yitzchak was not at such an advantage, Avimelech had protected him and Rivka with the force of law.
    – CashCow
    Nov 10 '15 at 15:42
  • While you are right to ask "why?", I think that this is an opportunity in the Torah rather than a problem. Frequently in the Torah we see a theme repeated, and it is always worthwhile to see how the theme is showing up differently in the different contexts. How is Yitzchak's role different from Avraham's? - here is one chance to see. For another instance, see the issue of "my wife is my sister": How does that look different with Avraham in Egypt, with Avraham in Gerar, with Yitzchak in Gerar?
    – MichoelR
    Mar 15 at 21:14
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One answer is, that it might not have been the same Avimelech!

The Sefer HaYashar, Chayei Sarah tells us that around the time Sarah died Avimelech died at the age of 193 and they anointed Benmelech / Nimloch his son (then aged 12 years old), as his successor. And they called him Avimelech as that was their custom.

It writes:

ויהי לתקופת השנה וימת אבימלך מלך פלשתים בשנה ההיא, בן מאת שנה ושלוש ותשעים שנה היה במותו. וילך אברהם עם אנשיו ארץ פלשתים וינחמו את כל בתי אבימלך וכל עבדיו, ויפן וישב אל ביתו.

And it was during this period of the year, Avimelech king of the Philistines, died in that year. He was one hundred and ‎ninety-three years old when he died. And Avraham went with all his people into the land of ‎the Philistines and they consoled the household of Avimelech, and all his household, and then he ‎returned to his home.‎

And then...

יהי אחרי מות אבימלך ויקחו על אנשי גרר את בנמלך בנו, והוא בן שתים עשרה שנה וימליכוהו תחת אביו. ויסבו את שמו אבימלך כשם כשם אביו, כי כן משפטם לעשות בגרר. וימלוך אבימלך תחת אבימלך אביו, וישב על כיסאו.

And after the death of Avimelech the people of Gerar took his son Benmelech, who was then ‎only twelve years of age, and they made him king in his father's place; and they called his ‎name Avimelech after his father, for such was their way of doing in Gerar. And Avimelech ‎ruled in the place of his father and he sat upon his throne.

Therefore, Yitzchak didn't need to reprove him because he wasn't the same Avimelech from the time of Avraham!

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Based on the way that the p'sukim are written it appears that the servants of Avimelech did not try (this time) to seize the wells by force. This time the used "lawfare" by claiming that the water was legally theirs. Thus, Avimelech did not try to defend himself by saying that he had never been told about it. That is also why Yitzchak just moved elsewhere to dig a different well. He did not want to get involved in lawsuits.

As I say in Is Ber. 26 in the proper chronological place?

We have the medrashim that Eisav was already leading a band of men. These men were the "family defense force". That is why the servants of Avimelech were unable to attack Yitzchak and instead resorted to "lawfare". That is suing him and claiming that the water in the wells that he dug belonged to them.

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It is possible that Yitzchak did rebuke them, as it says in Bereishis 26:20:

וַיָּרִ֜יבוּ רֹעֵ֣י גְרָ֗ר עִם־רֹעֵ֥י יִצְחָ֛ק לֵאמֹ֖ר לָ֣נוּ הַמָּ֑יִם וַיִּקְרָ֤א שֵֽׁם־הַבְּאֵר֙ עֵ֔שֶׂק כִּ֥י הִֽתְעַשְּׂק֖וּ עִמּֽוֹ׃ וַֽיַּחְפְּרוּ֙ בְּאֵ֣ר אַחֶ֔רֶת וַיָּרִ֖יבוּ גַּם־עָלֶ֑יהָ וַיִּקְרָ֥א שְׁמָ֖הּ שִׂטְנָֽה׃

I believe that Netziv intends to say this here:

כי התעשקו עמו – היה בזה רוב דברים אשר הוכיח יצחק כי מים חיים המה, והמה נתווכחו עמו, וזה מיקרי ״עשק״... ויקרא שמה שטנה – אחר שראו שעלה בידם לגזול הבאר בטענה בדויה, הוסיפו לגזול בלי טענה רק עמדו לשטן, וגם אז העלימו השרים עין.

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  • He might have reproved the shepards but not Avimelech himself
    – user15464
    Aug 22 '19 at 22:30
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There is a fundamental difference between Avraham and Yitzchak.

Avraham primary middah/ attribute was chesed- loving kindness. he was involved in actively try to fix up the world, including getting people to recognize G-d and try to live a G-dly life.

We constantly find Avraham involved with other people- setting up altars and "calling in the name of Hashem" (chap. 12-13), rescuing Lot (chap.14), greeting the angels and taking care of them (Genesis Chap. 18), praying for Sedom (ibid.), dealing with Avimelech (chap. 20) etc. He took a very active role in this world, trying to bring it to perfection. Perfecting the world requires fixing up wrongdoings.

Yitzchak, on the other hand, exemplified the middah of Gevurah- power and self-restraint. He accepts whatever comes his way, recognizing that it is the will of Hashem. Thus we find that at Akeidas Yitzchak- when Avraham binds Yitzchak and prepares to sacrifice him- the verse says that Elokim tested "Avraham"- not Yitzchak (22:1). For Avraham it was a test, since sacrificing his son went against his very essence of loving kindness. But Yitzchak went along willingly (See Rashi's commentary on verse 6). We find no resistance on his part at all. Likewise, in the story of the blessings (Chap. 27), Yitzchak takes a very passive role as Rivka arranges for Yaakov to take Esav's blessings. This is because Yitzchak's role was to develop his relationship with Hashem and completely give himself up to His desires.

So when Avimelech's servants take his wells, Yitzchak doesn't fight back. He accepts it and moves away. His passivity is not because he is weak or unable to fight back. Rather he accepts that whatever happens to him is exactly what Hashem wants to happen, and thus he just accepts it willingly.

SOURCE: I have heard this idea in numerous forums from Rav Moshe Shapiro zatza"l and some of his talmidim, including specifically Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky. The basic concept- Avraham represents chesed and Yitzchak, gevurah- is very commonly discussed among the commentators like Maharal. I do not know if he had a source which specifically discussed the application to the wells, or if that was his own insight.

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