This week’s Torah portion, as usual for Genesis, features a wealth of challenges, drama and meaning. We meet Jacob and Esau and their drama is set in motion with the birthright story. Again, the older will serve the younger and internal family dynamics will swirl around trickery and, perhaps, parental favoritism. Just another Biblical family !
However, I want to look at another aspect of this portion, an aspect that is often overlooked given the sweep and passion of the Jacob and Esau story. It is Isaac, that bridge between generations, and his encounters with the people with whom he resides. In chapter 26 Isaac leaves the territory of the Philistines. They had stopped up the wells that Abraham had dug. So Isaac moves on and camps at the wadi Gerar “And Isaac dug anew the water wells which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death; and he gave them the same names that his father had given them.” (26:18). A few things come to mind here. First, we know the importance of water then and now and how water is also seen as a symbol of cleansing, transition and even transformation. Isaac attempts to re-dig the wells of his father. As we get older, do we not do this as well? Is there not a time, for many of us, when we come to realize that so much of who we are is really based on where we have come from? In our attempt to live our own life, we cannot escape the imprint of our own parents.
In their book “Sparks Beneath The Surface”, Olitzky and Kushner cite a teaching on this verse that notes the desire for adults to often return to our roots.We seek to appreciate the wisdom and contributions of our parents (and their flaws). “There is a redemptive quality about the wells. When Isaac digs them, he finally realizes what his father went through. Realizing his father’s wisdom, Isaac now calls the wells by the very same name that Abraham had given them…The struggle for Isaac (and for us) is like coming home. Spiritually mature adults realize that their parents are in them.” (p. 31)
Think about this concept of being “spiritually mature”. SO many of us carry around a spiritual or theological structure that is, at best, adolescent, as we have not really confronted our beliefs since youth. Yet, Torah reminds us that part of our own growth is not only physical, but spiritual, and in that growth, we often come to understand our place in our own family’s chain of tradition. We return to dig our parents wells, seeking that nourishment, but in an adult and maturing way. Perhaps that is part of the wisdom of elderhood.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.