In 1938, when my mom was ten years old, her family left Europe. Among their belongings, were family photos sporting her father as an officer in World War I. It was a souvenir of the past, my grandma told my mom, by the time you grow up, there won’t be no army and no wars anymore.
Fast forward almost 100 years from that First World War. Above my daughter’s bed are two photos: my mom in her uniform as an army medic in 1948, and mine, also in IDF uniform. On the chair, awaits her own with the sergeant ranks on the sleeves, the pins and the combat intelligence beret. A couple of weeks ago, her younger brother joined her, drafting to an infantry unit. It’s hard not to think how did this happen, and how almost “overnight”, I turned from a “California Girl” to a double IDF mom…
The dance between parents and children, each hoping and correcting for the other has been going on forever (yes, “for each other”; I don’t for a minute believe it’s only about stepping “forward”).
In this week’s reading, Isaac is re-digging his father’s wells. When driving south in Israel, there are road signs pointing to the ancient locations mentioned in this week’s Torah portion: Rechovot, G’rar, Lachai Ro’ee. The reasons that would necessitate digging and re-digging wells in that area, are obvious: there are shifting sands, rare rain storms and hot weather most of the year. The fact that water is scarce and its source in need of constant care – is also obvious. And yet, of Isaac’s 180 years, our longest living patriarch, this is one of the very few incidences mentioned. Is it really only about the wells?
The act of digging itself implies concentrated, hard work, reaching into deep, unknown darkness to bring up new life. Rabbi Hirsch says that the root ch.f.r. – dig – denotes “the last stage of digging, the completion, in which one continues to dig until water gushes out”. Digging is our own effort but re-digging means trusting a previous location chosen by the previous generation, in Isaac’s case, his father’s wells. He’s successful in getting water, but in the old wells, there are fights between the shepherds. Only when he goes on to dig “another well”, his own, he is successful. He names it “Rechovot” (“wides”) and says, “for now G-d has made room for us; now we can be fruitful in the land” (Genesis 26:22). Isaac here, by the way, is nothing like that “child” who drags behind his old father up the mountain, nor the blind old man, fooled by his wife. He is strong, his strength is see by all, and G-d speaks with him and blesses him.
Re-digging our parents’ wells – is an amazing idea. Indeed, we have to discover who they were, and from there, discover who we are and what’s next. The future is not built “in the air”, but on the past experiences. A well is also sort of magic: Shouldn’t water come from the sky? Or maybe be picked up from a river or lake, or be carried in by a canal? But here, it’s found in the most unlikely place, where there should be nothing but dryness, darkness and silence. And yet, davka there, there is life, gushing out to be shared.
Isaac is named laughter, in the future tense. Good laughter happens when the positive unexpected comes true: oh, that’s funny, we say, I didn’t expect it!
Yesterday began the month of Kislev, known by some as the month of dreams. In the coming weeks we’ll read about Jacob’s dream, Joseph’s dream and even Pharaoh’s dream. Kislev is also the darkest month of the year with the “shortest” Shabbat (in the northern hemisphere). And yet, davka in that darkness, a vision appears, a light, a future. In some way, the same, and in some ways, totally different from all we expect. My kids take on some aspects of the journey that is similar to their previous generations – one should just listen to their sassy Hebrew (talk about unexpected!), and yet, I wish for them to find their own, better, peaceful and joyful path, where places of contention will turn to places where life force abounds. May their “swords be turned to plowshares and their spears into gardening tools”, and as poet Yehuda Amichai says, let them not stop there, but turn their tools into something that can never be used for war again.
One more about Haifa and the last week’s fires: http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4885850,00.html