What the Capture of Beersheva in 1917 Taught Me about Isaac
I am ashamed to say it, but when I was a kid I thought Isaac, the Jewish patriarch, was a wuss: a good son, a spitting image of his father, a willing volunteer to be sacrificed to God, a learned man, and a farmer. But he didn’t travel the world like his father Abraham – from Babylon to southern Turkey, to Canaan, Egypt, Philistine, and back to Canaan. He wasn’t a warrior like Abraham who commanded 300 fighters on a forced march from the Dead Sea to Damascus to battle kings. Isaac paled in comparison to his son Jacob who raised 12 sons and a daughter, prepared defensive formations to meet a threatening Esau, and traveled to Egypt. Jacob was the founder of the people of Israel, his namesake.
While the lives, travels, and travails of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph are spread across much of the book of Genesis, the story of Isaac barely fills this week’s Torah Parsha, Toldot. What was remarkable about his story in the Bible? Well, the Torah relates, he dug wells, he opened wells that had been sealed by the Philistines, and he gave names to the wells.
Rabbinic literature compares flowing water to the Torah – essential for life – and the rabbis credit Isaac for the nurturing Torah he provided. Three of his wells were given names related to the first and second Temples, according to tradition, and the third name signified the third, future Temple. And wells always played an important role for the romances of the Torah – by a well Abraham’s servant found Rivka, Isaac’s eventual wife. Hagar, Abraham’s second wife, found refuge at a well where later Isaac first met Rivka. And Moses met his wife Zipporah by a well.
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