Reflections on these Past Two Weeks and this Week's Parsha:
In this week's parsha, Parshat Toldot, we read about Yaakov having to re-dig the wells his father Avraham dug. We remember that Avraham dug wells to enable people to have access to water. Chazal understand that when Avraham dug these wells not only did it give many access to water, but, it gave them access to Hashem, Whose Presence in manifest in the presence of the water of the wells. After Avraham died, the P'lishtim filled these wells back up again with earth. The Chachamim understood it to be the attempt on the part of the Plishtim to blockade access to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
Yitzhak, often seen as the most passive of our forefathers, however, takes action. Why did he not just go elsewhere? Re-establish other wells?
Yitzhak, never ventures outside Israel. Yitzhak, who is the only "farmer" of our Avot, works the land. Yitzhak does not only re-establish what his father does, but, after encountering such hatred on the part of the Plishtim, Yitzhak decides to expand his father's task as well. Why is this activity so critical to Yizthak, so much so that the Torah emphasizes this dedication on the part of Yitzhak to re-dig these wells and dig a new well?
According to the Sefas Emes, Rav Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, this was Yitzhak's attempt to bring back access to God. Yitzhak could not allow the P'lishtim to physically not let people live and would not allow them to break the spirit with which his father, Avraham, established these wells. For, in addition to providing water physically required, the removal of the hidden nature, the "hester" of God's Presence in this world, is what Yizhak removed with the re-digging of the wells.
The Sefas Emes, through his own personal experiences, understands that one of the purposes of human creation is to provide for us the challenge to dig back the earth - to uncover Hashem in nature. That despite appearances to the contrary, our understanding is that all things come from Hashem. Avraham does that.
Furthermore, we recognize that beyond the wells that his father dug, Yitzhak digs a new well where there would not be any conflict. He calls this well "Rechovot". This name connotes expansiveness. The Sefas Emes quotes a pasuk in Mishlei, Perek Alef, Pasuk Kaf:
חָכְמוֹת, בַּחוּץ תָּרֹנָּה; בָּרְחֹבוֹת, תִּתֵּן קוֹלָהּ.
Wisdom cries outside in the streets, she utters her voice in the broad places.
From this pasuk, the Sefas Emes explains that once we remove the outer shell which hides and inhibits God in our lives, an awareness of God's Presence will expand and permeate the world.
The Sefas Emes goes on to explain that the agent for spreading the notion of God throughout the world is Torah she' b'al Peh, the Oral Law. By placing God in our lives and having accessibility to all our experiences, God is in our daily lives. We must allow ourselves to not hide Torah wisdom, to hide our Judaism or to revert inside.
When the wells of water which gave life to Yitzhak, his family and many around him were closed shut... when the aggression of the P'lishtim tried to prevent what his father worked hard to establish not just for himself, but, for so many was felt... it was Yitzhak, more of an introverted type of individual, who not only re-established those places, but expanded the opportunity for recognition of God. He uncovered new wells, new possible ways to expose Hashem to the world.
These past two weeks, the Israeli citizens have been terrorized by the blazing fires. Thousands of people evacuated from their homes and so many fighting fires and working tirelessly to help put out the fires, care for those in need and plan for the reforestation effort. Furthermore, there was a desecration of the forests in Israel, a destruction of land, the sacred space of the land of Israel. The person who believes in the God of Avraham and Sarah, of Yitzhak and Rivkah, of Yaakov, Rachel and Leah and who lives by an awareness of Hashem's presence. This is an attempt to physically intimidate and cause a blockade of the lifeblood of Israel and those who live within her boarders and destroy the individuals who protect that value.
It is natural to fear and to want to retreat inward and want to live in a more secluded way. But, we learn from Yitzhak Avinu, to not turn inward, but, to re-establish those institutions and places that were built or strengthened by those who put forth so much effort to see a thriving country and people. We appreciate that we must rebuild and expand. No matter affiliation, as Jews, we must continue to plant trees, plant on the land, reconstruct the shuls, homes, Batei Midrash and places of worship with strength and pride.
According to the Sefas Emes, Yitzhak's re-digging the wells re-ignited within him a closeness with the Divine Presence and renewed his connection with Hashem.
The Jewish people have the extraordinary capacity to strengthen one another, to offer comfort to all those who were personally touched by these tragic events. Let's encourage each other to persevere by continuing to build amidst the rubble of destruction.