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Torah Portion

Home > Torah Portion > TOLEDOT

by Stephen M Wylen

Isaac dug anew the 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 ... the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac's herdsmen, saying "the water is ours." ... and when they dug another well, they disputed over that one also ... He moved from there and dug yet another well, and they did not quarrel over it, so he called it Rehoboth (the wide place) saying, "Now at last Ad-nai has granted us ample space to increase in the land." (Gen.26:17-22)

COMMENTARY of the Safat Emet, the Gerer Rebbe The "wells" dug by the partriarchs are symbolic of "Torah teachings" for the Hebrew term for well, "be'er", is also the Hebrew word for explanation, "be'er". The patriarchs were giving explanations of the wisdom of Creation, how God created the universe by means of Torah, even before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai.
Like our patriarchs, a person must look well at the phenomena of this created world in order to comprehend the intention of the Blessed Creator. Abraham, the first patriarch, came to understand by his "digging" how to arrive at love for God, and to perceive all the acts of grace, kindness and goodness that God performs for us.
Isaac, the second patriarch, came to understand by his "digging" how to arrive at the awe of God. All of this, remember, was before the revelation of the Torah! Later, at mount Sinai, the Torah was given, and no one is truly worthy to receive the Torah which teaches all divine wisdom plainly, but the Torah is given as a pure gift.
Jacob, the third patriarch, did not dig wells of his own, but he inherited the wells that had been dug for him by his ancestors, and so he acquired all the natural wisdom that they had discovered.


Classical Judaism sees all human religion as evolving from a series of covenants, contractual agreements between God and humankind. The Gentiles live under the covenant of Noah, the Jews under the covenant of Sinai. There is no developed concept of "natural religion", the religion that people come to on their own without the aid of divine revelation or cultural indoctrination.
The Gerer Rebbe acknowledges natural religion. More than that, he sees it as a prerequisite for the acquisition of Torah. Torah contains all the "religion" a person might ever need, but before one can acquire the Torah one must prepare oneself, as the soil must be prepared before seed can be planted to grow into crops. The soul must first know the love and fear of God in order to open it to the teachings of Torah.
How does one acquire this natural religion, the love and fear of God? The Gerer Rebbe tells us. One must open one's senses to a new awareness of the world around us. One must be present to the moment, experiencing the self not as distinct from the universe but as part of the great whole.
There is a mutuality between natural religion and Torah religion, as we see from the example of Jacob. Jacob inherits the qualities of love and fear through the tradition of his ancestors.


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