Wells and Ways of Life

This week’s alumni dvar torah is by Yeshayahu Ginsburg

Many a Drasha for Parshat Toldos has begun with the fact that this Parshah is really a place-holder between the stories of Avraham and Yaakov. We have three forefathers in Sefer Bereishis. Avaraham has three whole Parshiyos dedicated to him. A full half of the Sefer discusses Yaakov’s life. And then Yitzchak gets the one week in between.

Yitzchak’s life is not uneventful, though. In this week’s Parshah we see him run afoul of Avimelech on several occasions, including several disputes with Avimelech’s people over wells. Ramban famously comments that the three wells serve as hints to the future Batei Mikdash. The first two, which Yitzchak had to abandon, were destroyed. The third one, though, was untroubled and this represents the third and final Beis Hamikdash, which will last in perpetuity.

There are two defining features in the Pesukim about what made this third well unique. The first is that, unlike the first two, Yitzchak himself dug the third one. The other defining feature is that Yitzchak made extra space between himself and the Plishtim before digging this well. Maybe he would have been successful had he dug the third one closer to where he had camped previously, but it did not seem worth the risk for him.

Far be it from me to opine as to what life choices we should make based on what is related in Chumash, but it is clear that there are broad lessons to be learned from this. The first lesson seems to be that undertakings by holy and righteous people are more likely to succeed. Indeed, it never hurts to attempt to surround oneself with those who inspire us to be better, as both Jews and people.

The second lesson seems to be one that is much more open to interpretation. While the distance that Yitzchak traveled in the story was clearly literal, we could homiletically learn a variety of things from it. It could be, in its most simplistic form, a lesson in physical distance. Perhaps it is often better to physically remove oneself from a contentious area. Or the lesson could be something entirely metaphorical. We could take a lesson of perspective from this story; we could learn that a good way to avoid confrontation is to find where the other is coming from and what their side of the story is.

Ultimately, what we learn from the story may not matter as much as how we approach it. Stories in Chumash are not told for our amusement or for the sake of giving us something to ask children about at the Shabbos table. The stories are there to teach us life lessons. As is a common refrain among commentators on Bereishis, מעשה אבות סימן לבנים–the actions of the ancestors are signs for the descendants. We should find our lessons, whatever they are, from what we see in Chumash. As long as we are honest with ourselves, honest to the stories, and honest to the overall attitude that the Torah gives us, the particular lesson that we learn from each story will come out in a way that makes us grow.

Yeshayahu Ginsburg (SBM 2015) is a rabbinical student at RIETS.

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