"My son is something else," Mrs. Finkelstein tells her friend. He Went to Las Vegas last week in a $50,000 car and returned a few days later in a $100,000 vehicle.
"What do you mean? He won that much money? He must really know how to gamble."
"Well, not really,” responded the mother. “He went in our car but had to come back by bus…"
The Midrash relates (1) that three of the greatest men of the Jewish faith encountered their future wives at wells of water. Their names were Isaac, Jacob and Moses.
This week's Torah portion (Chayei Sarah) relates how Isaac -- the second of the Jewish patriarchs -- met his bride, Rebecca, while returning from a well. In two weeks time, in the portion of Vayeitzei we will read the detailed story of how Jacob, the third of the Jewish patriarchs, found his young bride, Rachel, at a well located at the outskirts of Charan, a City in Mesopotamia (2).
The same occurred with regard to Moses (3). He, too, encounters his future wife near a well in Midian.
We could understand the site of a stream or a river as being conducive for romance. Many a proposal has been made near water. The sight of water evokes charming and enchanting emotions in human hearts and it represents the quality of bonding, since it serves to join distinctly different objects to each other (4).
But what was it about underground and small wells that were not even exposed -- a big rock covered them most of the time (5) -- that brought about the union of the progenitors of the Jewish nation?
And why was it these three men in particular -- Isaac, Jacob and Moses -- who decided to cast their lots with a well?
The Path to Marriage
Like all of the stories in the Torah, this one, too, contains psychological and spiritual symbolisms, allowing it to become a timeless tale that may assist us in our own efforts to find a spouse and maintain a meaningful relationship with that person.
A well, unlike other pools of water, contains opposite components. On one hand, the well is of no value without human effort and toil. Unlike the readily exposed rain or ocean water, we must dig hard, and sometimes deep, to uncover the spring of water hidden below the crust of the earth (5).
On the other hand, we human beings do not create, generate or even enhance the flow of water of the well; our efforts merely expose that which already exists fully, prior to our labor.
This is the Torah approach to marriage as well. We do not create our personal wellspring of love. Through our efforts we merely expose a relationship that has already been welded by G-d prior to our birth (6), in the words of the Zohar (7), "A wife and her husband are two halves of the same soul."
The connection is there beforehand; the flow of love (symbolized by water) from your soul to your future spouse’s soul is already in existence. It may however be completely concealed and the human job is to search, dig and expose that inner connection.
The marriages of Isaac, Jacob and Moses came about particularly through much sweat and toil. Abraham needed to send his servant to another country -- Mesopotamia -- loaded with a ton of wealth to search for a bride for his son Isaac. Even after the servant found Rebecca, he needed to work hard to persuade her family to let her go. Jacob labored 14 years for his wife Rachel. Finally, Moses battled with the shepherds of Midian in order to win the hand of his bride, Tzeporah.
Since they labored so hard to find their spouse, we might have thought, that they believed their marriage to be a consequence of their tremendous efforts alone? Thus the Torah informs us that precisely these three men found their women at wells of water. This symbolized their own attitude towards finding a spouse: The relationship, just like a well, is a preexisting reality. But since it is hidden beneath the surface of the earth, each person is called upon to do his or her part in digging.
If you dig with perseverance, enthusiasm and faith, G-d will guide you to your well.
Many people today delay their marriages for years or even decades out of fear that they do not know their partner well enough. The New York Sating scene is filled with this.
The problem of, course is, that even after dating for 12 years, you still do not know your partner well enough to prepare you for what the future might bring. Marriage, children, aging, and the multitudes of life’s experiences change people in ways that most of us cannot anticipate.
Though it is critical that you know the person you are marrying and that you do not overlook abusive or dysfunctional qualities that may destroy the relationship, you can’t ever be fully prepared for marriage. A certain leap is required. This leap is not a result of blind foolishness; it is the result of a mature recognition that ultimately we do not create our relationship-wells. If we do what we have to do – if we dig hard and deep enough – G-d will guide us to the right well that He prepared for us. When we find a person that “fits the bill,” and we are both committed to hold hands through thick and thin, we need to jump into the well.
Can You Destroy Your Marriage?
Just as we cannot create a well, we can neither destroy it. We can stuff it, obstruct it or divert its flow, but we cannot annihilate it. It is not a car we can lose in Los Vegas. The three spiritual giants who became engaged at wells also taught us this message about relationships.
When you experience a conflict with your spouse or you simply become aware of strong differences that drive you worlds apart, do not conclude that the relationship is dead. A married couple must remember that, in most cases, the split between them is an aberration of their true condition, because it is G-d who created the connection between wife and husband, designing them as "two halves of one soul."
Sadly, there are exceptions to this rule. In some cases the marriage cannot be salvaged because the well has either dried out or it was never there to begin with. From a Torah point of view, unlike the present secular perspective, these are rare instances, and do not constitute the norm. The bond between a wife and husband, in the Jewish understanding, is usually an inherent condition, not an acquired one. It is sown into the very fabric of both of their souls.
Therefore, when you are at peace with your spouse, you are at peace with your own soul. When you are at war with your spouse, you are detached from your own identity.
Yet this preexisting oneness between each husband and wife may lay buried beneath lots of sand and gravel, and each of us needs to be committed to take a shovel in our hands and bring to the surface the inner wellspring of love that bond us to our partner in life (8).
1) Midrash Rabah Shemos 1:32.
2) Genesis 24:62; 29:2.
3) Exodus 2:15.
4) Genesis 29:2.
5) Another symbolism is explained in the commentary of the Mahrzav to Midrash, ibid.
6) See Soteh 2A. -- Thus, the Chassidic Masters taught that B'ar, the Hebrew term for well, is an acronym of the verse (Psalms 31:6) "Beyadcah Afkid Ruchei," which means that "in your hands (the hands of G-d) I deposit my soul" (See Or Hatorah Toldos and references noted there)
7) Vayikra p. 7b.
8) This essay is based on various writings of the Chassidic Masters. Cf. Hegyonos El Ami (by Rabbi Moshe Avegdor Amiel) to Parshas Bereishis.