Wells or wellness?
In this week’s parashah we read about the twins, Jacob and Esau, two boys who could not have been more different in temperament and character. There is a natural tendency to focus on their story, the struggle in the womb, the selling of the birthright and the trickery at the end of the parashah, which sees Jacob receiving the blessing intended for Esau.
But tucked in amongst the main narrative is the story of Isaac, his travels with Rebecca and a conflict over wells. This unusual narrative has an important lesson to teach, one we often do not see as we focus on the main action of the lives of Jacob and Esau. So what of the wells? We are told that Isaac traveled with his family when famine befell the land. He went in search of water and sustenance, and following God’s command he retraces the steps of his father, passing by the places where he had previously dug wells. At each location, Isaac is confronted with hostile inhabitants wanting to divest him of his father’s wells. At the first stop, Gerar, Isaac re-digs Abraham’s well and is met with opposition from local shepherds who tell him to move on. He did so and dug new wells.
Again he is asked to move by the locals and give up his wells. At yet a third location, Isaac digs the wells of his father and this time he is able to live in peace. Many read this passage and see it as a sign of Isaac’s weakness. He does not stand and fight for his father’s possessions but instead moves each time he is confronted by a bully. These interpreters suggest that Isaac, traumatized by his early experience with his father, does not have the ability to stand and fight for his rights like the other famous patriarchs. Perhaps this is true, but I believe that we can read the passage in a different light. Instead of seeing Isaac as weak, perhaps he is the strongest of all. He was able to see what was really important and see beyond the acquisition of possessions and power. Instead of collecting well upon well, more and more, he favored safety and peace. He knew that there were other sources of water, other places to settle, and that it was not worth risking his life or those of his family to acquire possessions.
Sometimes we get caught in the struggle for more and more and we forget to enjoy the simplicity of our lives, to be grateful for what we have.
Isaac reminds us to count our blessings and to truly treasure the good that we have around us, rather than being involved in the elusive search to acquire more. Our lives are not worth the acquisition of things. Unlike Isaac, we are not confronted with a war over our personal belongings, but we are, like him, involved in a struggle for our lives. We work ourselves into the ground, to acquire more, and then don’t have the health or strength to enjoy what we have bought. We are on the verge of a battle, and we win when like Isaac, we recognize what is truly important: health, safety, family and community. And they are better than all the wells in Canaan!