THE THREE WELLS
November 7, 2018
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1140, Parsha Thought, Toldos

THREE WELLS, THREE HOLY TEMPLES

Yitzchak, arguably the most enigmatic of the Patriarchs, had a most unusual pursuit: digging wells. Although wells were extremely important in those days – they provided communities with life-sustaining water – there must have been more to it than its utilitarian benefit, otherwise, why would the Torah describe the events surrounding his well-digging in such detail.

The Torah is not a history book. It would not have told us about Yitzchak’s well-digging endeavors if they did not contain some profound ethical and spiritual message.

The Torah describes his digging of wells as follows:

“And Yitzchak’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of living waters. The shepherds of Gerar argued with Yitzchak’s shepherd, saying, ‘The water is ours,’ so he named the well Aisek (‘Argument’) because they had argued with him.

They dug another well, and they quarreled about it also, so he named it Sitnah (‘harassment’).

He moved away from there and they dug another well. They did not quarrel over it, so he named it Rechovos. He said, ‘For now G-d has made space (“hirchiv”) for us, and we will be fruitful in the land.’”

Nachmanides raises the question of why it is important to discuss the well narrative in such detail; that Yitzchak dug three wells and that only the ownership of the third well was not disputed by the shepherds of Gerar?

Nachmanides explains that these three wells are a portent of the future. The “well of living waters,” is a metaphor for the Holy Temple, a sanctuary for G-d, who is the source of life. Naming the well “Aisek-argument” alludes to the arguments and wars that led to the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash. The second well was called “Sitna-quarreled,” a harsher expression, which refers to a more repressive exile. The third well, called Rechovos, alludes to the future Holy Temple that will be built speedily and without challenge. This third Beis HaMikdash will accompany the physical expansion of Israel and foster unity amongst all nations. This will be the final Temple, never to be destroyed.

JEWISH FAITH

The following is based on a commentary on the three wells in a 19th century work, Chalifos Simlas Binyamin. This commentator sees the three wells as a reference to three characteristics that make Judaism unique. The first two distinctive qualities are challenged by the nations of the world, just as Yitzchak’s wells were challenged, but the nations must concede the third.

The first unique aspect of Judaism (alluded to by the first well Yitzchak’s shepherds dug which was appropriated by the shepherds of Gerar) is its fundamental belief system. There is a common misconception that Judaism does not put much emphasis on faith, but focuses exclusively on action. This is a myth. Indeed, Maimonides, the so-called rationalist, begins his major work with the statement, “The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being who brought into being all existence…” He then proceeds to describe G-d’s unity and that denial of it “denies a fundamental principle upon which all depends.”

In his commentary on the Mishnah, Maimonides stipulated his famous 13 Principles of Faith. The first two are G-d’s existence and His unity. Obviously, Maimonides regarded faith in and knowledge of G-d and His oneness as absolutely fundamental to Judaism.

To be sure, Judaism puts great emphasis on action, because faith without action is like a building with a foundation but no structure built atop the foundation. By the same token, a structure built without a foundation will not endure; and that foundation is faith.

The Jewish idea of faith in G-d is unique in that there is absolutely no division within G-d. G-d is not a composite of different forces; He is absolutely One, beyond description and categorization. Moreover, according to the teachings of Chassidus, G-d’s unity implies that there is nothing else besides G-d. All of Creation is a manifestation of G-d’s creative power.

This emphasis on faith in G-d’s unity has been challenged repeatedly by the nations of the world. First, the pagans believed that there are multifarious powers in nature, each of which has its own g-d. To believe in one G-d was ludicrous in their eyes. They countered our belief with threats of death if we didn’t bow to their idols. They maintained that their faith was superior to ours.

This pattern of persecution for our faith began in the days of Abraham when Nimrod, the Babylonian King, tried to coerce him to bow to idols. It continued throughout the Biblical period, with attempts to get us to worship an assortment of idols, from Baal Peor to Baal. We resisted and died but emerged from this time of trial with our faith intact.

Even today, other religions claim that they are the true heirs to the faith of Abraham and the ancient Jewish people. Although their faith is not pure monotheism, as is Judaism, nevertheless, they have some basis for their claim to have adopted the general idea of one G-d, but without the deeper understanding of what true Divine oneness entails.

This premise, that Yitzchak’s first well alluded to Jewish faith which is vulnerable to challenge, coincides with the commentary of Nachmanides that the first well relates to the First Beis HaMikdash. The first Holy Temple was unique in that entering its precincts exposed one to G-d’s exclusive presence. In its precincts one was able to experience an unparalleled relationship with G-d that no other nation could experience.

When the Jewish people strayed from their unique monotheistic belief, the pagan Babylonians were able to destroy the Beis HaMikdash, the symbol of the uniqueness of Jewish faith. The fact that the Jewish nation degenerated into the ways of the pagans meant that they lost their identification with that which made Judaism unique, belief in one G-d. They were now vulnerable.

JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

A second distinctive characteristic of Judaism (hinted by the second well Yitzchak’s shepherds dug and which was appropriated by the shepherds of Gerar) is its sense of justice and righteousness. From the days of Abraham onward, particularly after the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people were given a system of laws and behaviors that make our society moral and just. Our Torah system of justice is superior to other systems. The degree to which Torah respects the dignity of all, cares for the poor and needy, eradicates corruption of power, etc., is indeed unique.

This claim has elicited a sharp unfavorable reaction from the other nations who then sought to demonize Jewish law and claim that their systems were superior.

This too coincides with Nachmanides’ comparison of the second well to the second Beis HaMikdash. The reason the second Temple was destroyed, our Sages reveal, was due to senseless hatred. There was breakdown of the societal norms of the Torah, which are based on the major principle “Love your fellow as yourself.”

Once that fundamental and unique quality of Jewish social life degenerated into the discord so rampant in the general society, the Jewish people lost their claim to uniqueness and their Holy Temple was vulnerable to destruction.

DIVINE COMMANDS

The third well relates to the third unique characteristic of Judaism, which the nations of the world cannot and, generally speaking, do not attempt to copy or counter. This is the emphasis the Torah has on bringing G-dly light into every aspect of our lives; our bodies through the Mitzvah of circumcision and binding Tefillin, our clothing through the Mitzvah of wearing Tzitzis, our homes by affixing Mezuzos, our food by observing the Mitzvah of Kashrus, and marital life through the Mitzvah of family purity and Mikveh. Judaism introduced the concept of sanctifying time through the observance of Shabbos and Holidays. In short, there is no phase or facet of life that is not governed and sanctified by a Divinely revealed Mitzvah. Through these so-called “rituals,” we actually connect to G-d.

The word Mitzvah means both commandment and bond or connection. Every time a woman lights Shabbos candles she connects to G-d, to all other Jews who are lighting on this Shabbos, and to all women of the past 3,300 years who have brought light into their homes by performing this radiant Mitzvah.

Moreover, through the performance of every Mitzvah we make the world a dwelling-place for G-d. Each Mitzvah we perform takes us one giant step closer to the Final Redemption.

This claim is indeed unique. Other nations can claim that they have faith and believe in social justice. To some degree this is true. G-d gave the Seven Noahide commandants to all humanity; these seven commandments include not worshiping idols, being blasphemous towards G-d (ideas that point to proper faith in one G-d), as well as laws that guarantee a civil society. However, these other faiths cannot compete with us concerning the Mitzvos that connect us to G-d, to each other and bring G-d’s master plan for the creation of the universe to fruition.

It is this emphasis that will hasten the unfolding of the Messianic drama and bring peace to the world: the third Beis HaMikdash will be built and G-d’s true oneness will be recognized by all peoples.

 

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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