In the chapter that comes between Esau’s birthright being swapped out for a bowl of lentil soup and Jacob’s wooly trickery to swipe his farsighted father’s brachah, there is some deep and nourishing Torah in the middle of Parashat Toldot.
We read in these verses, (Bereishit 26:18-19), “Isaac returned and dug the wells of water…The servants of Isaac, digging in the valley, found wells of living water.”
Our forefathers were well-diggers, it seems. Again and again, facing heavens that failed to produce they chose not to give up on this outlandish promise of a people or to flee South to greener pastures, but, instead, they made the bold decision to dig deep. They believed that beneath the dry and arid surface there was something nourishing, something life-giving. What level of surety did it take? What faith?
It says in the verse “Isaac returned,” for these were wells that had been dug by his father, Abraham. He learned from his parents, Abraham and Sara, that there were living waters if we go deep enough. This is Isaac’s inheritance; the knowledge that even when wells have been plugged, we have the power to access the richness of our tradition. This is an understanding that must be transmitted from one generation to the next. For those of us who are parents, educators, grandparents our task is to model this mining of our tradition and to search for the fissures where meaning comes bubbling out.
Yet, lest we think that our lack of learning makes us unfit to pass on a heritage of digging for wells, the great Chasidic master, R’ Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, taught in reference to these lines that our mythic ancestors “opened up channels of the mind and awareness, teaching all who were going to come into this world how to dig within themselves a spring of living water…” Like so many great Chasidic teaching, he internalizes the metaphor transforming the external digging to a digging within. To model mindfulness and a searching within ourselves, to believe that within each of us is our own unique Torah, this is within all of our grasp.
Our tradition is not just some great cistern full of still, gathered waters. What we all know and what we dare to teach our children is that we have access to the wisdom of generations, that by digging into our tradition and into ourselves we can tap in to a wellspring of hope and love and resilience. There is no better time to dig this message than now. Shabbat shalom!