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Well Therapy

Why Did Our Great Men Encounter Their Wives by Wells?

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

  • November 23, 2012
  • |
  • 9 Kislev 5773

“Jacob’s Well” at the foot of Mt. Gerizim

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Class Summary:

Well Therapy - Why Did Our Great Men Encounter Their Wives by Wells?
Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein- in the loving memory of Alta Shula Swerdlov. And the merit of Yetta Alta Shula, "Aliya," Schottenstein


A young woman was being interviewed and said, "I am giving up dating." The interviewer asked what caused her to take such a drastic measure. She replied: "The last man I met talked only of himself for two solid hours. And then he looked at me and said, 'Enough of me talking about me; tell me what you think of me.'"

Three Matches

The Midrash relates[1] that three of the greatest men of the Jewish faith encountered their future wives at wells of water. Their names were Isaac, Jacob and Moses.

In Chayei Sarah, Abraham's servent meets Rebecca at the well near Charan, and brings her to meet Isaac, also near a well. Vayeitzei tells the detailed story of how Jacob, the third of the Jewish patriarchs, found his young bride, Rachel, at a well located at the outskirts of Charan, a city in Mesopotamia.

The same occurred with Moses[2]: he encountered his future wife Tzeporah by a well in Midian. 

Now, we could understand the site of a stream or a river as being uniquely conducive for romance. Water generally evokes delightful emotions in human hearts and it represents the quality of bonding, since it serves to join distinctly different objects to each other.[3] But what was it about underground and small wells that were not even exposed—a big rock covered them most of the time[4]—that brought about the union of our original fathers and mothers? And why was it these three men in particular—Isaac, Jacob and Moses—who decided to cast their lots with a well?

The Path to Marriage

Like all of the stories in the Torah, this one, too, contains psychological and spiritual symbolism, allowing it to become a timeless tale that may assist us in our own efforts to find a spouse and maintain a meaningful relationship with that person.

A well, unlike other pools of water, contains opposite components.

On one hand, the well is of no value without human effort and toil. Unlike the readily exposed rain or ocean water, we must dig hard, and sometimes deep, to uncover the spring of water hidden below the crust of the earth.[5]

On the other hand, we human beings do not create, generate or even enhance the flow of water of the well; our efforts merely expose that which already exists fully, prior to our labor.

This is the Torah approach to marriage as well. We do not create our personal wellspring of love. Through our efforts we merely expose a relationship that has already been welded by G-d prior to our birth [6], in the words of the Zohar,[7] "A wife and her husband are two halves of the same soul." Each of our matches, just like a well, is made in heaven.[8] The connection is there beforehand; the flow of water-energy from your soul to your future spouse’s soul is already in existence. It may however be completely concealed and the human job is to search, dig and expose that inner source of water.

We must search and “dig” for our spouse; but when we do find himher, we ought to know that we have discovered a relationship that was in existence even before we met.  

When Conflict Emerges

And just as we cannot create a well, we can neither destroy it. We can stuff it, obstruct it or divert its flow, but we cannot annihilate it. The three spiritual giants who became engaged at wells also taught us this message about relationships. When you experience a conflict with your spouse or you simply become aware of strong differences that drive you worlds apart, do not conclude that the relationship is dead.

A married couple must remember that, in most cases, their connection is essential and innate. the split between them is an aberration of their true condition, because it is G-d who created the connection between wife and husband, designing them as "two halves of one soul."

The bond between a wife and husband, in other words, is an inherent condition, not an acquired one. It is sown into the very fabric of both of their souls. Your relationship is not subject to destruction.

Yet this preexisting oneness between each husband and wife may lay buried beneath lots of sand and gravel, and each of us needs to be committed to take a shovel in our hands and bring to the surface the inner wellspring of love that bond us to our partner in life.

Our fathers encountered their wives by wells to teach us the most effective therapy of all when conflict might emerge—“well therapy:” the unwavering conviction that the relationship is etched into our very souls. Our labor is only to expose and enhance a preexisting bond and oneness.

[Sadly, there are exceptions to this rule. In some cases the marriage cannot be salvaged because the well has either dried out or it was never there to begin with. From a Torah point of view, unlike the present secular perspective, these are rare instances, and do not constitute the norm.]

Hard Work

The marriages of Isaac, Jacob and Moses came about particularly through much sweat and toil. Jacob, as this week's portion tells the story, labored 14 years for Rachel; Isaac needed to send his father's servant to another country, Mesopotamia, loaded with a ton of wealth to search for a bride. Even after the servant found Rebecca, he needed to work hard to persuade her family to let her go. Finally, Moses battled with the shepherds of Midian for the sake of his bride, Tzeporah.

Since they labored so hard to find their spouse, I might have thought, that they believed their marriage to be a consequence of their tremendous efforts alone?

Thus the Torah informs us that precisely these three men found their women at wells of water. This symbolized their own attitude towards finding a spouse: The relationship, just like a well, is a preexisting reality. But since it is hidden beneath the surface of the earth, each person is called upon to do his or her part in digging, in order to expose and maintain the inherent relationship between the husband and the wife.[9]

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[1] Midrash Rabah Shemos 1:32.

[2] Genesis 24:62; 29:2. Exodus 2:15.

[3] Genesis 29:2.

[4] Another symbolism is explained in the commentary of the Maharzav to Midrash, ibid.

[5] Cf. the essay in Toldos, The Sandy Path to Inspiration, where we discussed the significance of our Patriarchs engaged in the labor of well digging.

[6] See Soteh 2A. -- Thus, the Chassidic Masters taught that B'ar, the Hebrew term for well, is an acronym of the verse (Psalms 31:6) "Beyadcah Afkid Ruchei," which means that "in your hands (the hands of G-d) I deposit my soul" (See Or Hatorah Toldos and references noted there).

[7] Vayikra p. 7b.

[8] See Talmud Soteh 2a.

[9] This essay is based on various writings of the Chassidic Masters and sefer Hegyonos El Ami (by Rabbi Moshe Avegdor Amiel) to Parshas Bereishis. 

Please leave your comment below!

  • Anonymous -6 years ago

    Not True!

    Very well written but not necessarily true or worthy. Just as G-d may have made two half souls that hopefully could find each other, The "finding" can be relatively impossible. Since we, the emotionally unschooled, can adhere to another for a myriad of reasons, does not indicate that we've found the other half soul. If that mistake has occurred no digging or repair will ever allow long term  happiness in that relationship.

    What you have written about keeping together and "making things right" most often should not be attempted as the two "wrong " souls  will be as two jig saw pieces from different areas of the puzzle. If that is the case , after deliberation attention and time, free the other soul and your own to find the true "other half".

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • EM

    Emil Martin -7 years ago

    You changed my view to marriage.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

Vayeitzei/Chayei Sarah/Shemos Essay

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • November 23, 2012
  • |
  • 9 Kislev 5773
  • |
  • Comment
Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein- in the loving memory of Alta Shula Swerdlov. And the merit of Yetta Alta Shula, "Aliya," Schottenstein

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Well Therapy - Why Did Our Great Men Encounter Their Wives by Wells?

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