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The Tortoise and the Hare

Friday, 25 November, 2022 - 6:54 am

We’re all familiar with the famous fable. The tortoise outraces the hare due to her determined and steady progress. The primary lesson the hare – and all of us – must learn is the foolishness of overconfidence and the folly of laziness.

Peering deeper into this parable, even if we aren’t overconfident, and despite our best efforts, we may still succumb to the hare’s fate. Why do so many of us start projects and never wrap up?  In the likes of horse racing, we might be able to reserve our energy for that final stretch. But in the game of life, we often grow tired and never manage to finish strong. Why?

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One of the apparently odd obsessions of our Patriarchs was digging wells. What’s even more odd is the Torah’s fixation on sharing this information with us. We can understand that the supply of water was a critical means of survival and success in their society. But, why is the Torah hooked on this detail more than, say, plowing fields?

In fact, in this week’s parsha Toldot we learn that Yitzchak was a more prolific and successful well-digger than his father Avraham. The Philistines stuffed up the wells of Avraham. Yitzchak, however, managed to dig wells that remained a source of fresh water.

What’s up with the well-digging?

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The Chassidic Masters insist that there is to more to well-digging than what meets the eye. Beneath the surface, well-digging is a spiritual art. By digging deep, we reach the living waters below. In contrast to rainwaters that descend openly from above – and the lakes, rivers, and seas that broadcast their refreshing waters, wells are the unsung heroes of hydration.  Truth be told, there is more groundwater than freshwater above the earth’s surface.  The greatest reservoir of H2O lies hidden beneath the surface.

The endeavors in life that are obviously holy – such as Torah study and prayer – are symbolized by rain and the open bodies of water.

But, most of life is not a direct encounter with holiness. The majority of our days are engaged in mundane affairs. Beneath the surface, however, these everyday activities possess tremendous spiritual potential. Our primary mission on earth is to transform those pedestrian moments and encounters into G-dly acts. By eating kosher food – and reciting the blessing on the food – our lunch is transformed into a sacred vehicle. By giving Tzedaka, our efforts at earning a livelihood are fused with Divine purpose.

This form of touching the Divine is embodied in the tedious craft of well-digging. On the surface, nothing is visible. But, through strenuous effort, we can tap into – and reveal – the most potent reservoirs, soul of life-giving waters.

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Avraham was the consummate extrovert – the lover of G-d and humanity. His open advertising of G-d was a passionate endeavor that captured the imagination of many. He was a leader by inspiration.

But, inspirational leaders have their shortcomings. It’s not easy to keep up the flare and excitement. And, even if it’s constant – others may tire of the inspiration. When engaged in inspirational love, it’s possible that the flames will die out – or that others will extinguish them.

Avraham was the best possible hare, but a hare indeed.

Conversely, Yitzchak was an introvert of sorts. He was eager to engage, but without the fanfare. His approach was to dig deep inside. He quietly taught those that showed up at his door. Not relying on outside inspiration, he was able to keep at it endlessly. He embodied the slow and steady tortoise.

It’s no surprise, then, that Yitzchak outdid his father in well-digging.

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As Americans wake up the morning after Thanksgiving, its time to think about Yitzchak’s approach.

The fanfare of giving thanks at a public holiday has its own beauty. But, caught up in the delicious dishes and family get-togethers, it might easily fade away.

For Jews, however, the first words out of our mouths every single day are, Modeh Ani… “I thank You, living and enduring King, for You have graciously returned my soul within me. Great is Your faithfulness.”

These are words we ought to remember – day in and day out – if we want our gratitude to have staying power.

It turns out well-digging deserves special mention in the Torah. And, despite not being center-stage – or precisely due to that – it is critical to our spiritual agenda.

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