Jacob and Esau are born after wrestling with each other in Rebecca’s womb. Isaac re-digs the wells of his ancestors.
WE CARRY within us the Great Duality, the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil. Like Rebecca, we are pregnant with dilemma, with paradox. Carrying this contradiction can feel so painful that we forget that it is a pregnancy. We forget that we are in the process of birthing. In agony we cry out, “Im Keyn, Lama Zeh Anochi?” (Genesis 25:22, If life is like this… with so much suffering… Why am I?)
The blessing comes in the awareness that we are indeed birthing Life. We are always birthing ourselves.(1) The whole drama of Life moves through the narrow passage of our personal experience, and we are stretched wide and torn open in the process. At some point, the contradiction within us will be made apparent. We will then have the opportunity of expanding to embrace the complex dilemma of our human situation.
TO BE FULLY HUMAN is to be connected to our lineage, to experience the presence of our ancestors within us. We receive the blessing of lineage by embracing the ancestors who live inside of us; we offer them our compassion and courage, we receive the merit of their efforts, and we learn from their mistakes. Through our love their power is freed, their wounds are healed.
Through the story of Toldot we learn to access our lineage. In his time, Abraham accomplished the great work of digging deep wells of spiritual sustenance, but by Isaac’s time, the wells had become obstructed. Isaac lost access to the wealth of his lineage. In re-digging the stopped up wells of his father Abraham, Isaac finds that the process is neither simple nor easy. In fact he digs three wells before acheiving success — connection with the source.
EACH WELL HAS A NAME that describes a marker on the journey towards deep connection.(2)
- ESEK – “CONTENTION”
- SITNAH – “ENMITY”
- REHOVOT – “SPACIOUSNESS”
FIRST WE DIG the well of ESEK/CONTENTION. We scrabble in a rocky argument with our inheritance, rubbing up against its hard edges, fighting its constrictions, and opening to its contradictions.
THEN WE DIG the well of SITNA/ENMITY. There we taste the contradictions of the tradition within us. When we come to know the suffering and struggles of our ancestors and the whole human family who have stood against one another, we cry out, “Im Keyn, Lama Zeh Anochi?” (Genesis 25:22, If life is like this… [with so much suffering]… Why am I?)
AT THIS POINT, the very moment of birthing, we dig the well of REHOVOT/SPACIOUSNESS. The well of our ancestors becomes a fountain connecting the dark depths of our human story with the wide skies of awareness.
IN THE STORY of Toldot we learn of the tragedy of deception between brothers that results from the narrow belief in the scarcity of blessing. Our family is torn apart because of the conviction that only one of Isaac’s sons can receive his blessing.
This system of limiting blessing and creating hierarchy is born of the belief that love and blessing are finite, that there are winners and losers. This idea is drawn from the well of CONTENTION.
When I deceive my brother or attempt to steal the blessing from my sister, I am drawing on the well of ENMITY (whose waters are poison) which will only drive me to greater thirst.
From the well of SPACIOUSNESS comes the wisdom that our fates are bound up with one another. Your loss, your suffering is also mine, and true blessing is shared. At the well of spaciousness I slake my thirst with the knowledge that the source of blessing knows no bounds, and that we are capable of accessing that blessing directly.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
IN THE MIDST OF PAIN AND STRUGGLE, the spiritual challenge is to remember to ask the question, “What am I birthing?”
Pain narrows our awareness, disguises itself as the whole of reality, saps our strength and makes us forgetful of the holy process of birth. Our only path to divinity is through our humanity. When pain presents itself we must remember that it is a doorway. The only way is through.
Each contraction brings us closer to new life. The challenge is to remember the promise of life even as we cry out, even if our cries are filled with despair. The cry will open the ancestral well. Bearing the pain of our humanity, digging through ESEK, through SITNAH to the well of REHOVOT, we can receive the legacy of our mothers and fathers who struggled and birthed new life.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE of drawing from the well of our ancestors is to receive their essence and make it our own. There is always the danger of getting caught in the forms that we have inherited without tasting and knowing their essence. We must let our unique creative flow be invited and opened by the legacy that we inherit.
GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE
RE-DIGGING THE WELLS OF OUR ANCESTORS
WRITE A LIST OF YOUR BELIEFS about yourself and your world.
QUESTION THEM. Who are you and what is the nature of your existence? Notice all the contradicting beliefs that you carry within. Where did these beliefs come from? Which of them remain useful?
INVOKE THE PRESENCE OF YOUR ANCESTORS before your prayer. Ask for their encouragement, support and inspiration.
GO OUT IN A PLACE OF SPACIOUS NATURAL BEAUTY AND SING directly to God, the source of life. Raise up your voice with or without words, without care for its pleasantness or correctness, just releasing the cry that is in you. Let your voice express the truth of where you are right now in the process of birthing yourself.
1 Later in our story (Exodus 3:14), God gives us this name: “Ehyeh asher ehyeh, I am becoming who I am becoming.” We who are created in God’s image share in this name and this status. We only exist in the process of “who we are becoming.”
2 Isaac’s efforts to access the wells of his father so clearly mirror my own struggles to receive my Jewish inheritance — the treasures of Torah.
Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.