The wreckage of empty wells

We have always longed to be fresh, new and different than our ancestors. And we have paid dearly for it.

Rabbi Berel Wein,

Judaism Torah scroll (illustrative)
Torah scroll (illustrative)

Our father Avraham was, according to the Mishna in Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), tested ten times and overcame all of them. It is interesting that most of the commentators that describe and enumerate these ten tests do not identify Avraham as being the son of Terach as one of these tests. One can easily think that this perhaps would have been one of the major tests in his lifetime. But the Torah takes into account a fact of human nature that, in one way or another, every generation strives to be different than the one that precedes it. Sometimes this is for good and sometimes not. 

Avraham differed from his father Terach in a good way. Esau differed from his father Yitzchak in a negative fashion.   The greater challenge seems to be to emulate and builds upon the positive attributes and accomplishments of one’s forbearers. The challenge to Yitzchak is to emulate his father Avraham, to spread the idea of monotheism in a pagan and violent world, to dig once again all of the wells that his father had dug, from which the life giving waters of Torah would again flow. 

It is easier to rebel and discard than to continue and replenish. The world is always unenthusiastic about revisiting old wells even if they have been proven to be bountiful and eternal. The prophet Yirmiyahu complained about new wells that do not really contain water and abandoning old wells that are yet bountiful and blessed with water. This would be the great test for Yitzchak and later for his own son Yaakov, in transmitting the legacy of Avraham and creating the Jewish people.

The challenge of continuity in the generations and their relationship one to another has been the internal challenge in Jewish life throughout the ages of our history. We have always longed to be fresh, new and different than our ancestors.  Any new idea or ideal in world civilization always had Jewish adherents, even when it was obvious that it was against their own self-interest to advocate that new fad or ideal. 

And, we have paid very dearly for those monumental errors of judgment and policy. Jewish history is littered with the wreckage created by these empty wells. And the non-Jewish world is complicit in this debacle. Avimelech, the king of the Philistines repeats the grievous moral error made with the wife of Avraham, and then with the wife of Yitzchak. 

When it comes to the Jewish people the attitude of much of society is not to learn from the past. One would think that by now the world would have absorbed the lessons of self-destruction that anti-Semitism brought and continues to bring to its proponents. But, alas, such is not the case. 

For centuries on end, the Philistines and others would continually make new peace treaties with the Jews only to revive fresh hatred and violence as a “new” tactic in their enmity towards the Jewish people. We have our challenges but so does the non-Jewish world.  Ours is to retain continuity, theirs is to discard it.