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The Sandy Path to Inspiration

Why Were the Founding Fathers of Judaism Enthralled by Wells?

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

    2039 views
  • November 19, 2020
  • |
  • 3 Kislev 5781
  • Comment

Class Summary:

The Sandy Path to Inspiration: Why Were the Founding Fathers of Judaism Enthralled by Wells?

Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein- in the loving memory of Alta Shula Swerdlov. And in the merit of Yetta Alta Shula, "Aliya," Schottenstein.

Free Plowing

Back in the '40s, a Jewish guy was arrested for smuggling guns into Israel, then known as Palestine. He was taken into one of the British prisons. While there, his wife writes him a letter decrying what a shlemazel he is.

"Spring is coming and with you rotting in jail who will provide? Who will plow the soil?"

The man comes up with an idea. He sends an urgent letter to his wife saying: "Please, my dear, whatever you do, don't touch the field this year. All my M1 rifles are hidden in the field!"

Sure enough, the letter is intercepted and the British take this very seriously. The next morning at 6 a.m. there are 200 armed guards at the man's fields waiting for dawn to break. As the sun rises, they attack the field with shovels and rakes, leaving no rock unturned.

When news gets back to the inmate, he writes a letter to his wife: "My dear, now that they have plowed the field, it is time to plant seeds!"

Enthralled by Wells

It seems that our Patriarchs, the Founding Fathers of Judaism, were enthralled with wellsprings. First, the Torah tells us of Abraham's involvement in well-digging and his rebuke to the king of the Philistines for allowing his servants to seize one of his wells.[1] Abraham performs an elaborate ceremony with the king, during which the king swears that the well would remain in Abraham's possession[2].

But Abraham's association with wells pales in comparison to his son Isaac's connection to wells. First, we learn that he is a frequent visitor at a spring named “Lachai Roei,” where he meets his bride and later settles[3].

Isaac then engages in relentless digging to uncover underground springs. He reclaims the wells that his father dug but that were plugged after Abraham's death. In addition, we read of at least another four wells that Isaac's servants dig anew. We are even told the names Isaac granted his wells and of the battles he fought to hold on to them[4]!

When the Torah describes in next week's portion his journey from Israel to the East, it tells us[5] that "Jacob looked and behold, a well in the field!" Jacob spends time at the well, and it is there that he encounters and decides to marry his wife-to-be, Rachel[6].

Why were the fathers of the Jewish people so connected to wells? And why does the Torah, a book of instruction and teachings, a roadmap for life, dedicate a significant part of this week's portion Toldos to discuss the details of Isaac's struggles to discover wellsprings?

Two Water Sources

In Jewish thought, water represents wisdom and inspiration[7]. Just as water quenches the thirst of an arid body, rejuvenating its spirit and resuscitating its energy, the gifts of wisdom and enlightenment refresh a soul and grant it inspiration and vitality.

We have two sources of water in our world. The waters above the ground—oceans, rivers, lakes, streams, and rain, and water that flows below the earth, covered by grit. These latter waters seep out from sand and gravel, from amid soluble rocks and cleavage planes, as they struggle to emerge from beneath the earth that conceals them.

One would assume that the restricted flow of water fighting to emerge from rock and gravel would be inferior to the unrestricted and smooth beds of water that lay above the ground. Yet the reality is that there is something uniquely refreshing and clear about spring water. The very fact that these waters are hidden beneath the ground keeps them free from pollution and germs and grants them a freshness and sparkle not to be found in the above-ground waters. Plus, the journey through rocks filters and refines these waters, so rich in minerals and nutrients. 

Two Sources of Inspiration

The two sources of physical waters in our world parallel two sources of wisdom and inspiration in our lives.

There is the wisdom and inspiration born above the mess of life's challenges. It comes to lucid people at lucid moments; it is straightforward, easy, and smooth. These are the waters that emerge from the hearts of pristine spiritual individuals; men and women unsoiled by filth and muck. 

But then there is the wisdom that emerges from life's grime, from amid struggle, pain, and failure; there is the clarity and passion born from hearts tarnished by toxicity. When a person, burdened by the daily pressures of earning a livelihood and raising a family, bogged down by trauma, fears, and anxiety; when a human being troubled by his earthly nature and his immoral urges, bursts out with a yearning to transcend his dirt and connect to Truth -- this small, restricted flow of water seeping out from a sandy and rocky psyche is more refreshing and potent than all of the serene waters located above the “ground.”

When a Jew, feeling so distant, engages in a Mitzvah, cries out to G-d in yearning, or makes one move to excavate the inner faith, resilience and idealism that lay buried in his or her soul, he or she connected to this spring of Divine infinity flowing deep below our earthiness. This is the most sparkling and refreshing water to the soul, to the universe, and to G-d.

This is why the fathers of the Jewish people were digging and preserving wells. They taught us to fight for and to cherish those moments of truth, fleeting as they are, and those small sparks of idealism, buried within the deep rubble of trauma and confusion.

For this is the purpose of life, to discover heaven within the earth, to find your springs of joy, confidence, and wholesomeness that always flow beneath your surface.[8]

[1] Genesis 21:25.

[2] Ibid. 21:30. This ceremony and the oath taken by the two parties at the location is the origin of the name of the City Beer Sheba, where this ceremony was performed. Beer Sheba means "the oath of the well."

[3] Genesis 24:62. Cf. ibid. 25:11

[4] Ibid. chapter 26.

[5] Ibid. 29:2.

[6]  Also Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, stopped at a well, where he found a bride for Isaac. Moses too discovers his wife-to-be, Tzeporah, at a well. Even Adam and Eve begin their life in the garden irrigated by a river. 

[7] See, for example, Bava Kama 17a. Tanya chapter 4.

[8] This essay is based on a discourse by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), the founder of Chabad, in his book Torah Or Parshas Toldos, Maamar Vayachperu, p. 20.

Please leave your comment below!

    Essay Toldos

    Rabbi YY Jacobson
    • November 19, 2020
    • |
    • 3 Kislev 5781
    • |
    • 2039 views
    • Comment

    Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein- in the loving memory of Alta Shula Swerdlov. And in the merit of Yetta Alta Shula, "Aliya," Schottenstein.

    Class Summary:

    The Sandy Path to Inspiration: Why Were the Founding Fathers of Judaism Enthralled by Wells?

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