The seeds of my interest in Israel were planted early in my childhood, in the fertile ground of a slide show from my great-grandmother and grandparents’ trip to Israel. They germinated during a monthlong BBYO summer program, where I learned how the modern state was being built on fields plowed and near wells dug by our ancestors in the Negev desert. I dreamt of walking in those ancient footsteps and along those well-worn paths, and thirty-five years ago, when I was a junior in high school, I convinced my parents to let me live and study on a kibbutz for a year.
This week’s Torah portion, Toldot, returns us to the Negev. The modern city of Be’er Sheva, where Abraham and King Abimelech of Gerer settled their differences over ownership of wells dug by Abraham, derives its name from that biblical history. The city’s name translates into “Well of Oaths” and the eponymous wells, dug by Abraham and filled in by the Philistines, are, in Toldot, re-dug by Isaac.
Abraham’s and Isaac’s digging of wells is both literal and metaphorical; their water is lifegiving, and they are the figurative wellsprings of the burgeoning community that will become the Jewish people. The Hebrew word for well, be’er, has a double meaning: it can also be translated as “to explain.” And in that sense, those wells, dug and re-dug, become symbols of a continual excavation into our tradition’s moral imperatives.
Our own Colorado history reverberates with connection to those wells and their place. Ramat HaNegev, our partner and the largest region in Israel, contains within it all that Abraham and Isaac’s wells represent, both the sustenance and the dynamism. And one can hear those echoes in Nitzana, an educational youth village, where opportunity springs forth from a community of secular Jews, Bedouin, Orthodox, and new immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Toldot inspires us to build new wells where needed and to never abandon the wells of knowledge and hope dug by our ancestors. May we remain strong in our conviction to return, again and again, to the source of our strength and our vitality.