Water is life. Our bodies are mostly water. Our planet is able to sustain life largely due to its abundant supply of water. The symbolism of water flowing and nourishing the thirsty land is easily understandable, even by those who have never lacked rain. So, what can we learn from the image of a well, that has been intentionally filled with earth so that it no longer functions as a well? If water is life-giving, then a stopped-up well is the opposite. Why, then, did the Philistines, as we read in this week’s parashah, Toledot, fill up the wells that had been dug in the days of Abraham and tell Isaac to leave the region? Why were they ready to make the land uninhabitable?
I interpret it as an early attempt to stop Jewish life, one of many that we Jews have had to endure over history. The Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Pogroms in eastern Europe, Nazi-Germany, and even this horrific attack on the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, they all shared one goal, making Jewish life unbearable; from preventing Jews to study Torah to forbidding Jewish rituals, from expelling Jews to physical prosecution and then to annihilation. Jewish history is full of stopped-up wells.
However, our Jewish history is also full of re-opened wells. Isaac’s digging the same wells that his father dug shows us how he reclaims his father’s traditions and ensures Jewish survival. I identify with Isaac’s actions: I have learnt to seek to reclaim the traditions handed down to us by our ancestors. I have seen how Jewish life has put out new roots in Germany. We all witnessed how Jews all over the world, us included, came together last Shabbat, mourning the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting, but more importantly, we celebrated Jewish life, too, affirming our commitment to never allow any anti-Semites to fill up our wells.
Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell