Excavating the old wells
By Harav Y Reuven Rubin shlita
Polish prosecutors are investigating after far-right nationalists burned an effigy of an Orthodox Jew during an anti-migrant demonstration.
The incident occurred in the western city of Wroclaw last week when a group gathered in front of City Hall, shouted anti-migrant slogans and then burned the effigy, dressed in black and with side curls.
Sounds familiar? Here we have a bunch of upright skinhead Polish citizens demonstrating against the alleged Muslim influx into their fair city. Just to make their point, the grand finale was the burning of an effigy dressed as a Chassidishe Yied, peyos and all. If it wasn’t so tragic we would have to laugh; old hates never die, and when in doubt, always blame the Jews. Who would have thought, after what Poland witnessed seventy years ago as our brethren were burned in the ovens built in Polish cities, they would have nothing better to do than make scapegoats of us.
Hashem built hester into the creation, to give us the challenge of seeing Him despite the hester!
We are witnessing dark and dangerous times, with the anxiety of every Yied growing daily. Europe is erupting, armed soldiers walk the streets. Shuls have guards in front twenty-four hours a day. We learn of increasing numbers of stabbings of our brethren in Eretz Yisroel. The world doesn’t mention this anymore; they have greater fears. Their cities are in lock down, Paris has become one large house of mourning. Religious leaders of the nations are flummoxed. One of them said openly he is questioning his belief in G-d. Most others are “out of the office” for the time being, after years of turning a blind eye to the daily fears with which Jews live in the Holy Land. They are facing the harsh reality that they were wrong.
And we, the Chosen People, what are we thinking? Where do we find chizuk in times that are stretching us to the limits?
The Sfas Emes gives us guidance for such times. In parshas Toldos the Rebbe ztl discusses the issue of “hester”. Hashem is at all times present, but is “hiding” behind nature and chitzoniyus (superficial appearances). The Sfas Emes points out that we learn how Avrohom Ovinu dug wells to give people access to water. Chazal see these wells, not only as real-life wells, but also as a metaphor for Avrohom Ovinu’s activity in giving people access to HaShem, whose presence is manifest in the water of the wells. After Avrohom was niftar, the Plishtim — the original Palestinians — filled in the wells with earth. Again, viewing this real-world experience in metaphoric terms, we see this action of the Plishtim as blocking access to Hashem.
Then along came Yitzchok Ovinu. He removed the earth that the Plishtim had used to close the channels to and from Hashem.
Thus, the Sfas Emes sees Yitzchok’s removal of the earth to reach the water in the wells as an act of penetrating the hester, to renew contact with Hashem.
This subject of the “hiddenness of Hashem’s presence “ in this world is one the Sfas Emes speaks about often. His understanding is that the purpose of Creation is to give us the challenging task of penetrating the hester; and thus to finding Hashem in nature (ma’aseh Bereishis). Our key responsibility is to make ourselves aware that despite appearances to the contrary, all existence comes from Hashem.
After Yitzchok Ovinu encountered strife and hatred from the Plishtim over the matter of the wells, he dug a new well, over which there was no conflict. Accordingly, Yitzchok called that well “Rechovos,” a name which connotes expansiveness and repose. There is hope, and new sustainable wells of awareness can be found.
Throughout his teachings the Rebbe points out that hester is not something that happens accidentally or that we bring upon ourselves. The Sfas Emes is telling us that Hashem built hester into the creation, to give us the challenge of seeing Him despite the hester!
This is a powerful lesson we must take on in these difficult times. Hashem is here, with us; there is nothing that happens without His involvement. We may not always be aware of this, and that is what we are meant to correct in this world: to delve deeper, through our prayers and learning, and open up the wells that the material world have blocked up with their filth.
As our forefathers before us, we must know that all this is a test, and that by digging through the mire we will open up wellsprings of spirituality never before witnessed. It’s what we are here for, and in this merit Hashem will hopefully send us our true redemption.