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December 7, 2019 – 8:26 pm | 28 views

When Jacob returned to Israel after twenty-two years of being a minority in the city of Haran, where his uncle Laban lived, he said “I sojourned with Laban . . . and I acquired oxen and donkeys, flocks, manservants, and maidservants.[1]
Why did he announce that he had sojourned with Laban, …

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Home » Free Choice, Vayetze

Vayetze: Find Your Well

Submitted by on November 30, 2019 – 10:51 pmNo Comment | 96 views

Find your well is a mission to live by. Once we figure how to find it, it can be the answer to life’s moral challenges.

You see, there are three kinds of places, the city, the field, and the desert. The city is where people live. Wild animals are not usually found in the city. The desert is for wild beasts, people don’t usually live in the desert. The field is for crops.

So, in order of priority, it works like this. The most important place is the city. The second in importance is the field. The third is the desert. You don’t need a reason to be in the city, that is where you belong. You need a reason to go out into the fields, but the reason is usually associated with the city’s needs. You go to the field to collect produce for the city. The only reason to go to a desert is to travel to another city. Otherwise, people have no business in the desert.

However, the field can only serve the city when it has access to water. If the water source dries up, the field quickly dries out and grows arid. Before long, it becomes as inhospitable as a desert. Finding the well is critical to the wellbeing of the field. The well is literally the field’s elixir of life.

Three Cultures
Conceptually speaking, the city, field, and desert represent three distinct mindsets. The city represents law and order. The streets are policed, criminals are prosecuted, and the law is enforced. Most people in the city live by their principles and behave according to ethical norms. It is a morally upstanding society.

The vast desert is governed by the law of the jungle. Here the high brow rules of society don’t apply. Here it is not live and let live as much as kill or be killed. It is a savage place where conditions are fierce. Here, there is no room for compassion, kindness, or morality, these are considered weaknesses in the savage elements of the desert.

In between, are the fields. The places that can go either way. They can either be like the city or like the desert. These are the small villages in the distant reaches and far provinces. The social mores of the large metropolises are lost on the small villages, but depending on the leaders, the small societies might incline toward savagery or normalcy. There is no script for life in these villages. Each village writes its own script and each individual can make a difference.

In the village, no one can say that they are at the mercy of others. In such small societies, each person wields influence. They can be a force for the good or for the bad. It is up to the individual.

Within
My goal here is not to describe the differences among societies. My goal is to help us realize that we each have elements of these three mindsets within.

There are aspects of our lives that are governed by our responsibilities and by the people around us. For example, we can’t walk into work angry and throw chairs around to our heart’s content. The boss will take note and fire us. If we are the boss, it won’t take long for our employees to run for the hills. We can’t sleep in each morning and lounge around the house all day because we have families to feed and people who depend on us. We live within structures that pretty much ensure our compliance with certain norms, expectations, and values. These are the city elements of our lives.

Then there is the desert of our lives. If we fall into a funk, lose our drive and start wiling away our days despite our many obligations, we have fallen into a desert. If our buttons are pushed and our tempers have been triggered, and we say and do things that we would never do in public, we have fallen into a desert.

Finally, there is the field. The field moments are the neutral moments in life when we are free to behave properly, but we can also choose to react negatively. For example, when we are driving alone in the car and someone cuts us off, we can be patient and tolerant or let loose with a string of words that we would never say in polite society. When we surf the web or spend time on social media late at night when everyone in the house is asleep, we can be responsible and go to bed, or get caught up in just one more story, one more post, or one more video, and let the night disappear.

The field moments take place whenever there is no one to judge us. If no one knows whether we were honest on our tax returns, if no one knows whether we tithed fully to Tzedakah, if no one knows whether we cheated a client, we are in the field. These field moments represent the ultimate test. What we do in a fit of anger, doesn’t represent us. It is not okay, but it also isn’t who we are. What we do in the presence of others, in the city moments, is not our true measure. What we do in the field moments, when only G-d knows and we owe nothing to anyone, defines us. This is the true measuring stick of our character.

Find Your Well
The trick is to find your well. When our Patriarch Jacob came to Haran, he saw shepherds gathered around the well, but they couldn’t draw water for their sheep because the well was covered by a huge rock. What did Jacob do? He single-handedly heaved the rock off the well and provided access to the water.

Our well is our soul, the sliver of G-d that resides within us that always wants to make the right choice. Sometimes the well gets covered by a huge rock, the harsh realities of life, which are the desert moments, and the terrible temptations, which are the field moments. We need to channel our Jacob and find our well. Once we have access to water, our soil can be fertile, and our field can fill with life.

Water is found in the well, but it doesn’t originate in the well. Water comes to the well from elsewhere. It is either delivered by hand or it flows through underground channels. Either way, the water in the well does not originate in the field. When we stop and meditate that we each have a soul, and that this soul is not part of us, it is not a human attribute, it comes from above, it is a piece of G-d transplanted in the seething mass of flesh and bones that we call a human, our well can be uncovered.

This is our true identity, our quintessential self, the core of Jewishness within. When this intrinsic point emerges from under the layers of indulgences and excuses, we return to our truth with a passion and zeal that no temptation can wither. Our commitment becomes like an iron tempered by the searing heat of our connection. It is not a connection with the G-d that we understand, or the G-d that we love, it is a connection with the G-d of our essence.

When we remember that we are not alone, that G-d is in us and that He is watching to see whether we live up to our true selves, we always do the right thing. Moreover, when we realize that G-d is not in us as much as we are in G-d, we recall who we really are. When we encounter our true selves, the temptations fall away and lose their power over us. We become suffused with a genuine desire to make the right choice and do the right thing.

When we channel our inner Jacob and find our well, the temptations that drag us away from G-d lose their allure. They have no power over us because at that point we want one thing and one thing only. To drink from the well that is G-d.[1]

[1] This essay is based on Letorah Ulemoadim, Parshas Vayetze.

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