“Like father, like son,” reads the old adage. And indeed, many Torah scholars note the parallels between Abraham’s journey and his son Isaac’s journey, which we learn about in this week’s Torah portion. Both do a lot of traveling, both grapple with foreign leaders and attempt to pass their wives off as sisters as a purported safety measure. Like any smart and fallible human being, Isaac both repeats some of his father’s successes while also duplicating some of his mistakes. In particular, I would not recommend passing one’s wife off as one’s sister while in enemy territory. It might work, but it puts a certain…strain…on the marital relationship.
One of the repeat moments in the Abraham-Isaac story revolves around the digging of wells. Abraham dug a number of wells over the course of his travels, but along Isaac’s own journey, he found that his father’s wells had been filled in. And so, “Isaac (Yitzchak) re-dug the wells (be’erot) of water, which had first been dug in the days of Abraham his father.” (Genesis 26:18)
Two weeks ago, I sat on a stone bench underneath the ruins of a water tower, the only physical remains of Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzchak (The Wells of Isaac), a kibbutz founded in 1943 near the southernmost border between Israel and (at that time) Egypt.
In 1948, when Israel declared independence, Be’erot Yitzchak’s location put it directly on the front lines of the War of Independence, on the Egyptian front.
After the kibbutz’s first skirmish with the Egyptian army resulted in heavy loss of life, the kibbutzniks were told that they were in too much danger and couldn’t be properly protected, and encouraged to dismantle the kibbutz and move to a different area in the north of Israel. So they did.
Be’erot Yitzchak – The Wells of Isaac. More than sixty years after the first kibbutz was abandoned in favor of safer ground, we sat – less than a kilometer from Israel’s border with Gaza – listening to the melody of the mezzuin, the Muslim call to prayer. One of my colleagues, Rabbi Elle Muhlbaum commented, “We’re all still digging our fathers’ wells.”
As we move through this year of transition, and as we move toward Rabbi Knight’s installation (and my own in a few months), we have been talking a lot about the importance of learning about and honoring that which came before us, the metaphorical wells that were dug years ago and the wells we ourselves are digging.
Our biblical patriarchs were fallible human beings, as are we all. The lessons Abraham and Isaac teach us in their lived lives allow us the ability to visit their already-dug be’erot, to peer down into the wells at the choices they made, choices that set our course as a Jewish people.
Sitting in the remains of a long-abandoned kibbutz, I thought about the past and the future, and wondered to myself about what it means to dig our fathers wells.
And so on this Shabbat, I leave you not with answers but with questions – Which wells have you discovered and peered into? Which have you found filled in and left that way? How are you metaphorically digging, or re-digging, or not digging your father’s wells?