This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Yissachar frand, Berel Wein, Yossi Biliu
It’s strange how we see the “well” in the background of many of the momentous story lines in the Torah. However, in this week’s parsha it takes center stage, a starring role as one of the main topics of the sedr’a.
Many of our leaders expressed their appreciation of G-D’s kindness through songs. We have the song of the sea, when Moshe broke out in song after being redeemed from Egypt while his sister Miriam led the singing for the women. Then there was the Prophetess Devorah and King David who were exemplary in their ability to raise their voices with praises to the one above.
This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Chukat, provides an example of an entirely different kind of a voice: not the voice of one person, but the voice of an entire group, indeed of an entire nation. It is the Song of the Well, of the Be’er.
It seems like the song is a ceremonial correlation of all of the mentions of the be’er in the Torah. One may wonder the mystique of “the well” and why it is cited in certain situation throughout the Torah.
The most frequent association of the “well” is it being in the background of finding a mate. Whether it was Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, looking for a wife for Yitzchak, Yaakov meeting Rachel, or Moshe finding Tziporah, all revolved around the shadow of the be’er. Perhaps that was the hot spot, the social gathering where one looks for his other half. The Grossingers of yesteryear (how many remember or would like to forget that meeting place). Perhaps humans haven’t changed much through time. It seems all mothers worry and rebuke their children saying “you’re getting old, all your friends are married, time to go to the well. Get a bucket and pretend you’re there for the water.”
There are many questions to be asked on many of the incidences. Let’s explore one seemingly strange story line when Yaakov meets Rachel, his future wife. Upon Yaakov’s arrival in Paddan Aram [Bereshis 29: 1-11], the Torah relates the incident of when Yaakov gave water to the sheep from the well. A large boulder sat atop a certain well from which all the flocks were given to drink. The rock could not be moved until all the shepherds gathered to collectively remove it from the well and then collectively replace it. When Yaakov arrived, the rock was still covering the well, so he removed it himself. Rashi notes that Yaakov removed the rock as easily as one would remove a cork from a bottle; it was that easy.
When we learned this story in grade school, we all pictured a dramatic scene of a macho, muscle-bound Yaakov demonstrating awesome power and impressing Rachel with his good looks and great strength. Then we imagined a scene right out of a Hollywood script: Rachel falls madly in love with Yaakov, they get married and live happily ever after.
However, that picture of events is far from accurate. Does it not seem strange that all these shepherds, who were going through this routine, day after day, year after year, did not have the strength to remove the rock but Yaakov- the Yeshiva student from the Yeshiva of Shem V’Ever, who had (according to the Medrash) spent the last 14 years learning day and night, did have the strength? Yaakov, in fact, probably looked more like the stereotypical pale, emaciated Yeshiva weakling than like a Hollywood he-man. How was it that he could move the rock and all the rugged shepherds could not?
It is interesting to note that the Torah lavishes a great deal of space and detail to this incident at the well while the Torah tells us nothing about the fourteen years of Yaakov’s life that passed between his leaving home and arriving at the house of Lavan.
Many men have tried to lift the stone that hides these sweet waters, but only Yaakov Avinu succeeded in revealing its undiscovered depths. Similarly, Moshe, our leader, who took us out of Egypt, was the hero of the day winning the hand in marriage of one of the damsels in distress, Tziporah. He too was involved with the “well”, however in his case, the nasty shepherds would always harass the water drawers.
The Be’er is a source of blessing, an ever flowing spring of G-d’s beneficent bounty. This Be’er followed Bnai Yisrael as they escaped from Egypt, and continues traveling with them in the desert.
What is so special about the well? What can we learn from the story line of Yaakov and Rachel at the well?
Perhaps the answer lies where the water lies, underneath the ground in the Be’er. The subject matter, which is the water in this case, is not seen; it is concealed. One only sees the shell of the well.
This theme of concealment is found in the very name of the heroine of Purim. “Esther” derives from the root word “hester” which in Hebrew means “hidden.” In the Torah (Dt. 31:18), G-d says to Israel: “I will surely hide (hastir astir) My face from you.” The sages see this Hebrew phrase as a subtle suggestion of the hiddenness of G-d during the time of Esther.
Take Esther herself. No one except Mordecai knows who she really is. Even King Achashveros is kept in the dark. “Ein Esther magedet moledetah” says the Megillah in 2:20. “Esther did not reveal her origins.” This is the theme of the day: nothing is revealed.
Note also the lineage of the protagonists of the Purim story. It is the lineage of hiddenness. Mordechai and Esther are descendants of Rachel Imenu. Rachel, the mother of Yosef and the wife of Yaakov, the muscle bound yeshiva boy, is the very essence of hiddenness and concealment. When her sister Leah is substituted for her in marriage to Yaakov, why does Rachel not cry out and protest that an injustice is being done? Because to do so would have humiliated her sister. Rachel knows how to conceal things, including her bitter disappointment.
The well conceals the very essence of life. This is the Torah’s message! A bracha’s inception is best through concealment and modesty. No one has to know! No one sees the water. This is what the Torah is trying to convey through the be’er. The most important aspect of life is conceived in the bedroom in the dark, under the covers, between husband and wife.
Interestingly Yaakov and for that matter Moshe overcame symbolically, the rock and the nasty shepherds. The stone sits perched atop the well, the many sins which keep us entrenched in this long and bitter exile. The key to understanding this whole chapter is a stanza which we recite in the Prayer for Rain (recited on Shemini Atzeret). The poet there uses the language “He concentrated his heart and then rolled off the stone” (yichad lev, vaYagel Even). In other words, Yaakov did not use his biceps or his upper body strength to move the boulder. Yaakov used concentration of the heart. All that he learned from his parents, the Yeshiva, the good values, gave him the strength to move away the negativity and draw the sweet concealed waters that are needed to live life the way G-d intended us to live.
In the song the individual voice is concealed is drowned out by the chorus of many. For discretion is vital. If one wants to seek the water of life-mayim chaim, which includes finding a mate, having children etc., it should be performed quietly. Every action one does should be conducted without the fanfare. Be’ezrat Hashem may we all draw the sweet waters from the well of life.
SONG OF THE BE’ER
Spring up, O well – sing to it –