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November 29, 2019

12/02/2019 09:14:19 AM


Rabbi Robinson

Yair D. Robinson

Parashat Toldot


Let me tell you about the second funeral I ever did. It was in Muncie Indiana, at my student pulpit. There was a woman there, her name was Sylvia. She born and raised in Muncie, the last of a multi-generation family in the congregation. She had no children but had poured her energy into the congregation. By the time I arrived she was living in a nursing home, and every week I was in town I’d stop by after Torah study. Here’s the thing: for all her devotion to the congregation, having served as a lay leader for years, especially concerned with the legacy of the Temple, she was also a profoundly unpleasant person. She had alienated just about everyone in the Temple, and most of her family as well. Even in her old age, when I was visiting her, Sylvia always had a few barbs for me whenever I showed up. When she died, she was afforded the right to have the funeral at the Temple, which in most communities is unusual, and basically the whole congregation came out, but as much to see whether I could say anything positive about this person.

As it happened, it was parashat Toldot, this week’s Torah portion. Most of the excitement goes to the beginning and end of the parsha: the birth of Jacob and Esau, and the trickery done by Jacob and Rebecca to claim the birthright. But the middle, we find Isaac digging wells, often re-digging the wells his father dug, only to have the people of Gerar come and stop them up. And so he names the wells Sitnah and Esek: Hatred and conflict. Repeatedly Isaac tries to maintain his father’s legacy, and repeatedly he comes into conflict with the nearby community, only to finally find living waters without disagreement, so he calls the place “Rehovot”, wide places. And after that, after the people of Gerar made peace with Isaac, he dug one more well, and called it “Be’er Sheva”, the well of promises.

So, I talked about the wells Sylvia dug in her lifetime. How, through her devotion to the legacy of the Jewish community in this small Indiana town, she found mayyim chaim, she found living waters. But she also dug wells of disagreement, of hostility, of conflict, and even of hatred. But some of those wells were Rehovot as well.

And it’s true for us as well. We dig wells in our lives, searching for living waters, for nourishment and sustenance. Sometimes we find conflict in the process, and sometimes we find peace. And we should always be asking ourselves the question: what kind of wells am I digging? What kind of wells are we digging for each other? Many of us got to spend the holiday with friends and family this week; some not. Did we find Sitnah and Esek, or Rehovot? Were we primed to expect one thing, and did we find another?

It happens to be Sylvia’s yahrzeit this Shabbat, but whenever I read these verses, I think of her, and I think of the wells she dug, and the wells we dig in our lives. May we, in our search for living waters, find wells of promise and peace. And may our wells provide nourishment for those in need. Amen.

Thu, June 13 2024 7 Sivan 5784