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Timeless Wells

It is axiomatic that there is not a single extra letter in the Torah, and it goes without saying that the Torah would not devote an entire section to something inconsequential. How then are we to understand the great lengths that the Torah goes through in this week’s parashah to discuss the wells dug (or dug again) by Yitzchak? The Torah even goes so far as to tell us the names of three of those wells, Esek, Sitnah, and Rechovot. The first well was called “Esek” (contention) because the local shepherds of Gerar “contended” with Yitzchak’s shepherds over it. The next well was called “Sitnah” (hatred) because they quarreled over that one, as well. And finally, the last one – over which they did not fight – was called “Rechovot” (expanses), because now Hashem has granted us “expanse,” and we can be fruitful in the land (Bereishis 26:20-22). Why does the Torah speak about these wells in such detail?

There is an important lens through which we must view all the Torah’s stories regarding the Avos (our forefathers). This lens is based on the fundamental principle of מעשה אבות סימן לבנים, the stories of [our] forefathers are a portend for [what will happen to] the children (Tanchuma 9; see Ramban, Bereishis 12:6). In a sense, their lives laid the DNA for the larger story of Jewish History, and by studying the details of their story, we can find foreshadowing of what would develop into our story centuries later.

The “wells of following water” of Yitzchak are no exception. The commentators note that they foretell the story of the great source of spiritual “flowing water” (see Yirmiyahu 17:13), namely the three batei mikdash (Temples) of the Jewish people. The first two temples were destroyed through contention (Esek) and hatred (Sitnah), while the third will be built without conflict or dispute, in a time when Hashem will expand (Rechovot) our borders, in fulfillment of the verse (Devarim 19:18): Hashem will expand your boundary as He swore… (Ramban, Bereishis 26:20).

When we dig a little deeper (pun intended!), and examine the terminology used by the Torah regarding these ancient wells we find further symmetry to the future story of the individual Temples that they represented. While there was infighting among the Jewish people leading up to the destruction of both the first and second batei mikdash, they were not of the same caliber. Our Sages note that during the First Temple period the fighting was mainly among the leaders – or shepherds – of the Jewish people. The kings of the north and those of the south would regularly feud, but the populace as a whole did not bear animosity toward one another (Yoma 9b). Hence, the pasuk that discusses “Esek,” the well that corresponds to this era, notes that the shepherds of Gerar quarreled with Yitzchak’s shepherds – specifically mentioning the shepherds (see Yirmiyahu 23:4 which refers to leaders as “shepherds”). Furthermore, regarding this well the Torah notes that the discord only rose to the level of “contention” – a term used for arguments over rights, boundaries and the like, but not to outright hatred. However, when the Torah describes the second well, corresponding to the second Beis HaMikdash it does not mention “shepherds,” for the animosity during that era was sadly not limited to the leadership. Rather, as we know all too well, the animosity that brought down the Second Temple was rampant and in fact rose to the level of “hatred” – hence the name “Sitnah” (hatred) for the second of the wells.  

The third well, Rechovot, though, refers to the messianic era; the time of the Third and final Temple. A time when we “will be fruitful in the land,” i.e., when we will increase exponentially. In less peaceful environments, an expanding population can lead to disagreements over space and limited resources. Not so in that time yet to come which the prophet describes as one of “boundless peace” (Yishayah 9:6). Rather, there will be a feeling of “expansiveness” (Rechovot), engendered by that very outpouring of brotherly love from one to the other (Kli Yakar, Bereishis 26:19). 

There’s another kind of hatred that will be done away with in that era; the evil hatred of those who seek to destroy us. That evil was on full display earlier this week, with the terrorist attacks in Yerushalayim that claimed a precious soul and caused great suffering to so many others. We keep the injured in our tefillos and hope that the perpetrators are quickly found and brought to justice. More broadly, we continue to daven for the end of such evil. We look forward to the day when we will merit to enter that third “Well,” and exclaim, “Now Hashem has granted us expanse, and we can be [even more] fruitful in the land! Please Gd, speedily in our days.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom / Good Shabbos

Rabbi Moskovitz


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Shabbos Mevarchim Chodesh Kislev

Rosh Chodesh will be Thursday and Friday.

Passing the Chessed Test

In this week’s parashah, Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, is sent to the land of Avraham’s origin to find a wife for Yitzchak. When Eliezer arrives in Aram Naharaim, the city of Avraham’s relatives, he offers his famous prayer to Hashem for help in this endeavor. In short, he asks Hashem to send the right girl as per the condition that Eliezer puts forth. Eliezer requests that the test that will determine the soulmate for Yitzchak is going to center on acts of kindness. This itself is noteworthy. Yes, as the Torah notes, Rivka was beautiful and gracious, but that was of secondary concern to Eliezer. The primary criteria on his short list of qualifications for the future wife of Yitzchak, was whether she was a baalas chessed (a doer of kindness). As our Sages note, Eliezer understood that the girl who would shine forth in this trait of chessed would be “worthy to enter the household of Avraham” (Rashi, Bereishis 24:14), the household which itself was synonymous with that very trait.

Rivka was more than up to the test. In fact, a careful reading of the verses here highlights the great care and sensitivity that Rivka displayed in her kindness towards this complete stranger.

Firstly, we find that Eliezer asked for very little specifically to see whether Rivka would in fact go above and beyond the simple request. If she were to do so it would be a sure-tell sign of her kind and righteous nature (Seforno to Bereishis 24:14). To start with, Eliezer merely asked, “let me sip, please, a little water from your jug” (ibid 24:17); i.e., just a sip. Rivka in turn says to him, “drink my lord,” and then proceeded to not just give him a little “sip,” but with great sensitivity to the supposed needs of a weary traveler, encouraged him to “drink” as much as he needed (Or HaChaim). The Torah then notes that “when she finished giving him to drink, she said, ‘I will draw water even for your camels until they have finished drinking’” (ibid. 24:19), going above and beyond Eliezer’s simple request.

What’s surprising, though, is that Rivka seemed to be planning to water the camels the moment she encountered Eliezer. Why then did she wait until Eliezer finished drinking to offer this next stage of her chessed? Or HaChaim suggests that she did not let Eliezer in on her plan to help his camels so that Eliezer not feel rushed to drink less than his fill! She sensitively recognized that if this traveler would know that she was planning to do more for him, he would not want her to have to also give him so much water. Alternatively, she waited to mention the camels because she was sensitive to Eliezer’s honor and did not want to put his drinking needs together in the same sentence of that of his beasts of burden (תולדות יצחק).

She then proceeded to run back and forth with her small jug to fill the trough before ten thirsty camels. Her efforts in doing so were herculean. In fact, the commentators note that it was not even humanly possible, and that Rivka was only able to accomplish this feat with Divine help (Rabbeinu Bachya). But that did not stop her. In fact, her very running back and forth itself was meant as a sign of honor to this traveler (Seforno), like Avraham’s rushing back and forth to fulfill the needs of his three guests in last week’s parashah.

Eliezer, for his part, made the test more difficult for Rivka, for he was מַחֲרִישׁ, [awkwardly] silent (ibid 24:21) throughout. He did not make any attempt to politely say, “Oh, don’t trouble yourself,” but rather stood by idly waiting for her to finish the impossible task. Only afterward, “when the camels had finished drinking” (ibid 24:22) and still Rivka asked for nothing in return, only then was it made abundantly clear to Eliezer that he had found the “one” (Seforno).

The Torah specifically shares with us the story of Rivka’s kindness, and her willingness to go above and beyond what was requested of her, right after it shares with us an example of the opposite. The parashah begins with the Biblical equivalent of a used-car salesman, when it tells us about Ephron. Despite Ephron’s supposed offer to give the Machpelah cave for free, in the end he took the exorbitant sum of four hundred silver “kanterin” – each one equal to 2500 regular shekel, for a total of 1 million shekel! Ephron is the classic example of one who “says much but does not even do a little” (Rashi, Bereishis 23:16). The Torah contrasts him to Rivka. Rivka is one who says little but does so very much (Kli Yakar)! So much, in fact, that she herself becomes the paradigm for what it means to be a sensitive and caring baalas chessed, (doer of acts of loving-kindness).

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom / Good Shabbos

Rabbi Moskovitz

Sun, November 27 2022 3 Kislev 5783