Clogged wells and the endless reservoir

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This week’s Torah portion is Toldot, Genesis 25:19 – 28:9.

In this week’s parshah, we get the largest glimpse into Yitzchak’s nature. He pleads to God on behalf of his wife, Rivkah, and she conceives to give birth to twins: Esau and Yaakov.


The parshah begins, “These are the generations of Yitzchak…” (Genesis 25.19). The primary reason seems to be to clarify that Yitzchak is Avraham’s son. In addition to the twins’ births and proof of their rivalry, the early passages tell of a drought and the need to travel to the land of the Philistines. God appears to Yitzchak and warns him not to go to Egypt. Yitzchak thrives, and his neighbors grow jealous.

Having been blessed by God, Yitzchak leaves Avimelekh, the king of the Philistines, and begins restoring his father’s wells that were filled with earth by the Philistines after Avraham’s death. Avraham’s long journey with a large household could only have been supported through a system of wells. Each of the wells was named to establish his rights. The best known is Beer Sheva, meaning, perhaps, Seven Wells. Conventional thinking is that Yitzchak restored the names given by Avraham to certify his rights. I see a deeper meaning.

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Yitzchak’s men dig another well and it reveals mayim chayim, living waters, the most precious water. Local shepherds claim the water as theirs, and Yitzchak names it Beer Esek, the well of quarrel. He and his men dig another well, and its ownership is also contested. Yitzchak names it Sitnah, hostility.

Yitzchak moves on and another well is dug. When there is no contention, he names it Rechovot, spaciousness or
expansion. This quality is reinforced by his statement, “Now the Eternal has granted us ample space to increase in the land” (Genesis 26.22). From there, Yitzchak goes to Beer Sheva.


After the assassination of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., and two African Americans at a Kroger in Louisville, Ky., I’ve been wondering: what are the wells that need to be dug out within our country and our human family? What is the rubble, the stoppages that need to be removed so we can be reminded that we are connected through the deep, broad well of our common humanity?

Clearing Avraham’s wells, removing whatever pebbles, sticks and stones that clogged them, was a means of healing for Yitzchak. Restoring the names metaphorically restored his relationship to Avraham. From a place of wholeness, he could experience the living waters and the Source of Living Waters.

When Yitzchak is confronted by the shepherds, he names the quarrelsome and hostile experiences and leaves them behind. In moving past the quarrels and the hostility, he draws on deeper sources to find spaciousness and divine blessing.

The Source of Living Waters, Mekor Mayim Chayim, is an endless reservoir that is always with us and is the source of our common humanity. We can do the best we can to protect ourselves from those who hate us and want us dead without ourselves becoming haters and killers. We are required to remember that each person is made in the divine image and that not everyone who disagrees with us is our enemy.

Sabrina Sojourner is the spiritual leader of Revitz House, a Charles E. Smith Life Communities residence.

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