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Torah Commentary
Vayeitzei (December 10, 2016)

Now Jacob lifted his feet and went to the land of the people of the East. And he looked, and behold! a well in the field, and behold! three flocks of sheep lying beside it, because from that well they would water the flocks, and a huge rock was upon the mouth of the well. And all the flocks would gather there, and they would roll the rock off the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and [then] they would return the rock onto the mouth of the well, to its place.

(Genesis 29:1-3)

Rachel Brumberg, Associate Director of Lifelong Learning

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayeitzei,
we begin with Jacob leaving Beer-Sheva.

In his travels, he comes across a well. Surrounding the well are flocks of sheep being watered. Jacob approaches the shepherds and asks them if they know his uncle, Laban, the man he had set off to find. It is while Jacob is standing at the well, speaking to the shepherds, that he first sees Rachel, the daughter of his Uncle Laban, who came to water her father’s flock. And the rest, as they say, is history. Family unites; Jacob falls in love with Rachel; Laban makes Jacob work seven years to wed Rachel but then gives him his older daughter Leah instead; Jacob works seven more years to finally marry the younger, prettier daughter that he fell in love with back at the well.

Ah yes, the well.

I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about water and wells and the significance of each in relation both to Judaism and to the world today. The Religious School’s Student Council, led by Rabbi Tick Brill, recently chose the organization Water for South Sudan to be the next recipient of our school’s weekly tzedakah collection. Their mission, which can be found on their website, waterforsouthsudan.org, is as follows: Water for South Sudan delivers direct, transformative and sustainable quality-of-life service to the people of South Sudan by efficiently providing access to clean, safe water and improving hygiene practices in areas of great need. As of May 2016, Water for South Sudan has successfully drilled 282 borehole wells, bringing clean, safe water to hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan.

Once the Student Council chooses an organization, it is the responsibility of the A-TEEM (our high school internship program, which I run) to present to the students in our school about the organization and remind them that it is our Jewish responsibility (mitzvah) to donate to tzedakah. In preparation for their presentations, we did a text study on B’reishit, the very first Torah portion, and saw that water is first mentioned in the second verse of the Bible; the earth itself is created out of water. We then discussed other biblical stories where water is mentioned, such as Noah and the flood and the parting of the Red Sea. When asked what these stories all have in common, it was pointed out that they all led to new beginnings. Water within Judaism, therefore, becomes a symbol of life.

Which brings us back to this week’s text. Yes, on the surface, we can see that people gather around the well because its water is a critical source of life for the flocks. But we can look even deeper to see that lives other than those of the sheep are affected by that well. Jacob meets Rachel at the well, and the line of the Jewish people continues through this encounter. And when we look at Water for South Sudan, it is hard not to see how their mission is connected to our text from the book of Genesis.

I invite you to donate to Water for South Sudan, not only because it is an organization with an important mission, but because by choosing this organization our Student Council has shown us that what we learn in the Torah is still relevant and meaningful today. Accessibility to clean water is an issue today just as it was in biblical times. And just as Jacob finds life at the well in Parashat Vayeitzei, so too may people all around the world today have access to water, this vital substance that ensures a high quality of life and allows for transformative experiences.

Join the conversation and post your thoughts. »

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