The Mystery of the Wells
Volume 20, No. 6
2 Kislev 5766
December 3, 2005
the Marwick family
in memory of Samuel Sklaroff a"h
The Benn family
on the yahrzeit of David Benn
(Dovid ben R' Mordechai a"h)
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Eruvin 59
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Berachot 61
Ramban writes: "The Torah spends time with the wells that
Yitzchak dug, although the simple story is of no significance and in
no way enhances Yitzchak's honor, because there is something hidden
within it." He explains that the first two wells, over which there
were quarrels, allude to the first two Batei Mikdash / Temples. The
third well, which was dug in peace, alludes to the coming Third
R' Yaakov Kamenetsky z"l (died 1986) adds: Chazal say that the
400 years of exile that Hashem foretold for Avraham's descendants
began with Yitzchak. Therefore, the Torah had to teach us that
Yitzchak suffered a form of "exile" at the hands of another nation.
Yitzchak did not realize at first that he was among enemies; that
is why he called the second well "Sitnah"/"Hatred" (not the first).
At first he thought that the Plishtim stole his well because they
needed water, but when they stole his second well also, he realized
that they were motivated by hatred for him. Realizing this at last,
Yitzchak moved farther away and was able to dig a well in peace.
A similar fate befell the two Batei Mikdash. During the period
when each of them stood, the Jewish People sought alliances with their
neighbors, and in both instances, those alliances played a role in the
Temple's eventual destruction. (For example, the alliances that King
Shlomo made resulted in the introduction of idolatry into the Land.)
The first two wells were dug by Yitzchak's servants, while the
third well was dug by Yitzchak himself. So, too, the third Bet
Hamikdash will be built by Hashem Himself (according to Rashi), and
will exist in peace forever. (Emet Le'Yaakov)
The children agitated within her . . ." (25:22)
Rashi z"l writes: "Whenever she passed the doors of a place where
Torah was studied, Yaakov moved convulsively, trying to be born.
Whenever she passed a pagan temple, Esav moved convulsively, trying to
Commentaries ask: We can understand if Esav was in a hurry to
leave the womb to go worship idols, but why would Yaakov need to leave
in order to go study Torah? Doesn't the Gemara teach that an angel
studies Torah with a baby in the womb? Could Yaakov have found a
better teacher elsewhere?
R' Shimon Sofer z"l (1821-1883; rabbi of Krakow, Poland) answers:
The negative effects of having bad classmates outweigh the benefits of
having a good teacher. Therefore, Yaakov was willing to forego
studying with an angel in order to get away from his classmate, Esav.
How do we know this is true? Our Sages say in Pirkei Avot
(chapter 1), "Make a teacher for yourself and purchase a friend for
yourself." This demonstrates that a good friend is more important
than a good teacher.
"The lads grew up and Esav became a man who knows hunting, a
man of the field; but Yaakov was a wholesome man, residing in
R' Moshe Hager shlita (the Vizhnitzer Rebbe in Bnei Brak)
commented: This verse is teaching each of us, descendants of Yaakov,
that we are expected to apply the same level of effort to our
"residing in tents" (i.e., Torah study) that an Esav applies to his
(Quoted in Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim)
"He [Yitzchak] smelled the fragrance of his [Yaakov's]
garments and blessed him, saying, `See, the fragrance of my
son is like the fragrance of a field which Hashem has
Rashi z"l comments: "Surely there is no more offensive smell than
that of washed goat skins. However, the Torah implicitly tells us
that the perfume of the Garden of Eden entered the room with Yaakov."
Why would Yitzchak call the fragrance of Gan Eden "the fragrance
of a field"? R' Yitzchak Isaac Liebes z"l (noted American posek)
The Torah relates that just before Yitzchak met his wife Rivka,
"Yitzchak went out to pray in the field towards evening." What was he
praying for? He was beseeching G-d that his forthcoming marriage
produce worthy children who would serve Hashem. Until the moment
described in our verse, Yitzchak did not know whether his prayer had
been answered, but when he smelled the fragrance of Gan Eden, he knew.
Then he said, "The fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a
field." This is what I prayed for that day in the field.
(Quoted in Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim)
"He said, `See, now, I have aged; I do not know the day of my
Rashi z"l explains (citing a Midrash): "When a person approaches
the age at which his parents died, he may well be anxious five years
before and five years after. Yitzchak was then 123 years old, and he
said, `Perhaps I will only reach the age of my mother, who died at the
age of 127, and I am now within five years of her age; therefore, I
know not the day of my death. I may only reach the age of my mother
or it may be the age of my father'."
Rashi's comment raises a basic question: Does a person have a
fixed life span which he will reach no matter what, or can a person's
life span be shortened by accident or by violence?
Rambam z"l (1135-1204) was asked this very question by his
student, R' Yosef z"l (the same person for whom Rambam wrote Moreh
Nevuchim / "Guide for the Perplexed). Rambam responded:
In our faith, there is no concept of a fixed life span. Death
comes from physical causes which can be internal or external. [At
this point, Rambam discusses the medical aspects of the issue.]
Rambam continues: We can bring two types of proofs to this, one
from the Torah and the other from nature. We will first present the
Torah-based proofs, for they are loftier and greater. After all, the
Torah is the goal that one attains following all other studies, and
Torah study brings about ultimate success.
[The proofs are as follows:] The Torah says (Devarim 22:8), "If
you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof, so that
you will not place blood in your house if a fallen one falls from it."
This verse teaches that adequate preparations and proper precautions
against causes of fatalities can reduce the risk of injury. If, on
the other hand, one could not take precautions against injury because
it was already decreed that he would fall from the roof, this mitzvah
would have no purpose [which obviously is not the case]. [Ed. note:
In fact, there is another way to read the verse which negates Rambam's
proof. Rashi notes that the verse speaks of "the fallen one" falling
from the roof. This means that the victim was destined to die anyway,
but a homeowner should build a railing so that he will not be the
agent of another person's death.]
Rambam offers another proof: The Elevated One said about setting
aside cities of refuge (Devarim 19:6), "Lest the redeemer of the blood
chase after the murderer, for his heart will be hot, and he will
overtake him for the way was long, and strike him mortally." If the
accidental murderer had a fixed life span and it was decreed that the
avenger would kill him, the city of refuge would do him no good. [On
the other hand, if his days were not up, the city of refuge would be
unnecessary.] . . .
Rambam continues: We read (Mishlei 10:27), "Fear of G-d will add
days, and the years of the wicked will be shortened." Regarding the
mitzvot it says (Devarim 11:21), "In order to prolong your days and
the days of your children . . ." This teaches that performing mitzvot
lengthens one's life.
"Yesod Ve'shoresh Ha'avodah"
("The Foundation and Root of Divine Service.")
This year, we are presenting excerpts from the work Yesod
Ve'shoresh Ha'avodah by R' Alexander Ziskind z"l (died 1794).
In prior chapters, the author encouraged us to see every
event and object in the world as part of a unified whole that
exists to give pleasure to the Creator. In Sha'ar Avodat
Ha'lev, Chapter 7, he continues as follows:
Know with certainty that it is impossible to succeed at this
basic and fundamental form of service unless you accustom yourself to
fulfill two affirmative commandments at all times: (1) the mitzvah of
"You shall love your fellow as yourself," and (2) the related mitzvah
of "With righteousness you shall judge your fellow." Both of these
mitzvot are found in Parashat Kedoshim, for a person who fulfills them
constantly deserves to be called "kadosh" / "holy."
The first of these mitzvot requires one to love his friend in
every respect just as he loves his own body and soul. Just as one
rejoices when Hashem bestows some good upon him, so he should rejoice
when Hashem bestows that same good on others. Conversely, one should
be as worried and feel as sad when others suffer as he would if the
same trouble came upon himself, G-d forbid.
[The foregoing describes how the mitzvah is performed through
thought.] As for performing the mitzvah through action, one should
fulfill his friend's desire to the same degree that one would fulfill
his own desire. Conversely, one should not do to another what he
would not want done to himself.
R' Alexander Ziskind continues: The Zohar adds another dimension
to this mitzvah. Any time you mention any good aspect of your friend,
you are obligated to bless him. One who does not do this deserves
severe punishment, the Zohar says. From where do we learn this? From
Moshe Rabbeinu, for when he said (Devarim 1:10), "Hashem, your G-d,
has multiplied you and behold! you are like the stars of heaven in
abundance," he added a blessing (Devarim 1:11), "May Hashem, the G-d
of your forefathers, add to you a thousand times yourselves, and bless
you as He has spoken of you."
As for the second mitzvah, you must judge every action of another
person favorably, even when it is far-fetched and illogical to do so.
[Ed. note: For detailed laws of, and exceptions to, this obligation
see Chafetz Chaim I 3:7-8.]
Both of these commandments are mitzvot that a person can fulfill
at all times because they require no action.
Copyright © 2005 by Shlomo Katz
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