This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Toldot (5768)
This week's Torah portion tells us of the three wells that Isaac dug. The first two he called Aisek (strife) and Sitna (opposition) because his enemies contested them. But the third, unchallenged, well he called Rechovot (wideness).
And if you ask, what possible significance can this have to us today, the great Torah commentator Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (RaMba'N) has the answer. (26:20)
He explains that the first two wells hint at the first two Holy Temples which were to be destroyed due to strife and opposition. But the third well corresponds to the Third Temple which G-d will build through Moshiach and which will stand for all eternity.
But at first glance this seems to make no sense.
Isaac is one of the founding fathers of Judaism. But it seems from the Torah that rather than doing miracles or preaching new doctrines like founders of other religions did, these wells were among his main accomplishments. Is this the best he could do?
Not only that, it's not so clear how these wells hint at the Temples.
And even more; isn't G-d infinite? How can He 'fit' in a 'Temple'?! Shouldn't G-d be revealing Himself in boundless celestial fire or something impressive? Why a measly building?
To understand this here is a story. (HaGeula #105)
G-d made many types of Jews. Some people think this is terrible as it causes dissention but really the opposite is true; it is the potential source of harmony and beauty. Just as an orchestra is composed of many types of instruments so too the Jews began with twelve tribes and now there seem to be hundreds of them.
An example was Rabbi Brenerbard. He was born and bred into a 'tribe' of 'rigid' religious Jews called "Li'ta'eem" (Jews from Lithuania, esp. Vilna, a.k.a. 'Mitnagdim' (opposers)) who treasure the seriousness of Judaism and oppose 'frivolities' like joy, singing and dancing as practiced by the Chassidim, especially the Chabad- Lubavitch Chassidim who believe that this joy is essential and will bring Moshiach.
(Chassidim are Jews that serve G-d according to the 300 year old teachings of the 'Baal Shem Tov')
Rabbi Brenenbard was an excellent speaker so it was no surprise that he was invited to speak in the Israeli town of Efrat for the opening of a new Talmudic center that was donated by the famous philanthropist Rabbi Yosef Gutnick who is a Chabad Chassid.
But nevertheless it was a surprise to everyone when Rabbi Brenenbard stood and announced that he wanted to relate a personal encounter that he had with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Shneerson.
The story was as follows.
When he was just a young man he decided with the guidance of his teachers and advisors that he would devote his life totally to learning Torah. So when it came time for him to get married he found a bride who agreed to support his holy goal and they set up a home in Israel, in Jerusalem.
For the first few years everything was fine. He was intelligent, devoted and motivated and was able to sit and learn virtually non-stop and his wife and in-laws were overjoyed to have such a son-in-law. But as the years passed an ominous cloud began to slowly settle over their happy home.
They had no children.
At first they thought that prayer and charity would help, but it didn't. Then they tried getting blessings and advice from elder Torah scholars. But that also didn't produce any results. So they began taking the normal route.
They visited doctors, experts and professors of all sorts. His wife received special treatments and various alternative medicines… but nothing changed, the prognosis was black and the years were passing.
But his wife refused to give up. She knew there must be a way. And sure enough, a breakthrough came from a totally unexpected place.
One of her close friends told her about ….. The Lubavitcher Rebbe in Brooklyn! "Why, the Rebbe is famous for miracles! If anyone could help it's him. Everyone goes etc. ect.
But when Mrs. Brenenbard told her husband about it… he was anything but excited.
"Chassidic Rebbis!? The Lubavitcher!?" he said in disbelief and vetoed the idea totally and immediately.
Two more years passed and he began to accept his lot but his wife didn't let up. Every week or so she reminded him and begged, "Why not try? What have we got to lose? Maybe it will work? Please, just this one time."
His conscience began nagging him. He couldn't bear to see her suffering this way…. until finally one day he broke down and announced.
"All right, we'll go to Brooklyn". And a week later they were entering the Lubavitcher Rebbe's office.
As soon as the door closed behind them his wife burst out in uncontrollable tears. But the Rebbe looked at her with kind and wise eyes and comforted her saying "You needn't worry, you will certainly be blessed with a child."
Then, when she calmed down he turned to her husband and asked "And what do you do?" To which he answered "I learn Torah all day".
"But what do you DO?" The Rebbe asked again, emphasizing the last word.
Rabbi Brenenbard's mind began to race. He had always thought that the ideal way to spend one's life was to be immersed in the holy Torah and avoid the world as much as possible.
But the Rebbe seemed to be saying that this wasn't good, or wasn't good enough. He wanted him to DO something to improve the world around him. Could it be that the Rebbe was suggesting that he should subtract time from learning the precious Torah? No way!
The Rebbe looked at him in a way that it was obvious that he was reading his thoughts, smiled and asked pleasantly.
"Tell me, where do you live? On what street?"
Rabbi Brenenbard shrugged his shoulders, gave his address and the name of the tiny and obscure street in Jerusalem where he lived, and wondered what the Rebbe was getting at
"Now on that street," said the Rebbe, "there are two apartment houses. One has a grocery store on the first floor and the other doesn't. Which building do you live in?"
Rabbi Brenenbard was floored! The Rebbe had never been in Israel and even if he had been he wouldn't notice these things. How could he possibly know of the buildings on a miniscule street that even most people in Jerusalem don't know exists!!
He answered the Rebbe with wide eyes of disbelief, 'In the building without the market' and the meeting ended.
As Rabbi Brenenbard told the story it was obvious that he was still overwhelmed with what the Rebbe said about his building perhaps even more so then by the fact that his wife shortly thereafter became pregnant and gave birth to their first son!
Rabbi Brenenbard concluded by saying that he then decided to change his life. He took the Rebbe's advice, opened a "Kollel', an institution for advanced Torah scholars and began teaching Torah to others and changing the world around him instead of just learning for himself.
This answers our questions.
Miracles and religions don't do much to change the world. Miracles are easily forgotten (as with the Jews after leaving Egypt) and religions usually are concerned more with the afterlife than with corporeal life.
That isn't what Isaac wanted. He didn't want to found another religion that stresses heaven and negates the earth.
That is why he dug wells.
He dug into the barren sand until he revealed water in order to transform the barren desert into a fertile, inhabitable land.
To teach us that it is up to us to transform and 'elevate' the physical world to become higher than heaven.
This is also the point of the Holy Temples.
For G-d to do reveal Himself in miracles and wonders is not so unusual; G-d is above nature (like the miracle of Rabbi Brenenbard's wife giving birth), But for G-d to be revealed in a physical house… (like the Rebbe knowing about his building) that is really impressive!
The Holy Temple just like the wells is to transform this physical world; to reveal the Creator in His creation.
This is the job that Isaac began. And it will be completed by Moshiach who, according to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, is already here and any moment will bring the Holy Temple from heaven, gather all the Jews to the Holy Land and teach all mankind to serve the Creator.
But it all depends on us.
We just have to dig a bit into our hearts, open our eyes put an end to 'strife' and 'opposition' and reveal a new wideness as Rabbi Brenenbard did and do all we can to reveal...
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