The Sandy Path to Inspiration
Back in the ’40s, a Jewish guy was arrested for smuggling guns into Israel, then known as Palestine. He was taken into one of the British prisons. While there, his wife writes him a letter decrying what a shlemazel he is.
“Spring is coming and with you rotting in jail who will provide? Who will till the land? Who will plow the soil?”
The man comes up with an idea. He sends an urgent letter to his wife saying: “Please, my dear, whatever you do, don’t touch the field this year. All my M1 rifles are hidden in the field!”
Sure enough, the letter is intercepted and the British take this very seriously. The next morning at 6 a.m. there are 200 armed guards at the man’s fields waiting for dawn to break. As the sun rises, they attack the field with shovels and rakes, leaving no rock unturned.
When news gets back to the inmate, he writes a letter to his wife: “My dear, now that they have plowed the field, it is time to plant seeds!”
Enthralled by Wells
It seems that our Patriarchs, the Founding Fathers of Judaism, were enthralled with wellsprings.
First, the Bible tells us of Abraham’s involvement in well-digging and his rebuke to the king of the Philistines for allowing his servants to seize one of his wells. Abraham went so far as to perform an elaborate ceremony with the king, during which the king swore that the well would remain in Abraham’s possession.
But Abraham’s association with wells pales in comparison to his son Isaac’s connection to wells. First, we learn that he is a frequent visitor at a well named “Lachai Roei,” where he meets his bride and later settles.
Isaac then engages in relentless digging to uncover underground springs. He reclaims the wells that his father dug but that were stuffed up after Abraham’s death. In addition, we read of at least another four wells that Isaac’s servants dig anew. We are even told the names Isaac granted his wells and of the battles he fought to hold on to them!
Jacob, too, seems to harbor special sentiments towards wells. When the Torah describes in next week’s portion his journey from Israel to the East, it tells us that “Jacob looked and behold, a well in the field!” Jacob spends a lot of time at the well, and it is there that he encounters and decides to marry his wife-to-be, Rachel.
Why were the fathers of the Jewish people so connected to wells? And why does the Torah, a book of instruction and teachings, a roadmap for life, dedicate a significant part of this week’s portion Toldos to discuss the details of Isaac’s struggles to discover wellsprings?
Two Water Sources
In Jewish thought, water represents wisdom and inspiration. Just as water quenches the thirst of an arid body, rejuvenating its spirit and resuscitating its energy, the gifts of wisdom and enlightenment refresh a soul and grant it inspiration and vitality.
We have two sources of water in our world. The waters above the ground—oceans, rivers, lakes, streams and rain, and water that flows below the ground, covered by grit. These latter waters seep out from sand and gravel, from amid soluble rocks and cleavage planes, as they struggle to emerge from beneath the earth that conceals them.
One would assume that the restricted flow of water fighting to emerge from amid gravel would be inferior to the unrestricted and smooth beds of water that lay above the ground. Yet the reality is that there is something uniquely refreshing about spring water. The very fact that these waters are hidden beneath the ground keeps them free from pollution and germs, and grants them a freshness and sparkle not to be found in the above-ground waters.
Two Sources of Inspiration
The two sources of physical waters in our world parallel the two sources of wisdom and spiritual inspiration in our lives.
The first of these spiritual sources, which parallels above-ground water, is a sense of wisdom and inspiration that is born above and beyond the dirt of life’s daily challenges. It comes to lucid people at lucid moments; it is straightforward, easy and smooth. These are the waters that emerge from the hearts of pristine spiritual individuals; men and women unsoiled by the filth and muck innate to many a human character. Their waters are delightful and unrestricted.
But then there is the wisdom that emerges from life’s “dirt” and grime, from amid much struggle and inner strife; there is the inspiration born from those human hearts that are submerged in the psychological and emotional gravel of life. When a person, burdened by the daily pressures of earning a livelihood and raising a family, and bogged down by his earthly nature and his immoral urges bursts out with a yearning to transcend his dirt and connect to God – this small, restricted flow of water seeping out from a sandy and rocky psyche is more refreshing and potent than all of the serene waters located above the “ground.”
This is why the fathers of the Jewish people were engrossed in digging and preserving wells. With this they taught us to fight for and to cherish those moments of truth, fleeting as they are, and those small sparks of idealism, transient as they seem, buried within the deep rubble of falsehood and grit.
For this is the essence of Judaism: You must not live in heaven; you must discover heaven within earth, beginning with your own earth.