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Home » Chukat, Environment

Chukat: What I Learned From A Wellspring

Submitted by on June 22, 2012 – 6:33 pmNo Comment | 3,053 views

Springing the Well

Wellsprings are G-d’s gift to the world. Arid climates become fertile when wells are discovered. Parched and thirsty souls find life, salvation and hope with the discovery of a well. A well discovery is cause for celebration and certainly a reason to praise G-d. It comes as no surprise that our ancestors wrote an ode to G-d to thank Him for a well.[1]

It is remarkable when you think about it. Subterranean waterways carry water across dry deserts to the most unlikely locations and where there was nothing, an oasis blooms.

Yet, even as we marvel at G-d’s ingenuity we wonder why it couldn’t be made simpler. The well is fed by a spring that is fed by an underground tunnel that is fed by a river. The river is supplied by rainfall, which leads us to our question. Why does G-d make rain fall in distant locations only transport it to via convoluted routes to the desert when he could simply make it rain in the desert? Of course the scientific answer is that arid climates don’t support rain, but what is the mystical reason?

If rain were to fall near the well we would have water, but not fresh cool spring water. Spring water is cool, clean and fresh because it is filtered by the boulders and pebbles it encounters in its underground journey. what wellsprings can teach us innerstreamAt first glance the silt and dirt appear to muddy the waters, but in fact they filter the water, which is the mystical reason for the torturous journey. It is not a waste of time; it is a filtration process that allows the water to burst into the well clean, cool and fresh.

The Soul

Viewed this way the well becomes a metaphor for life. Jewish mystics pointed out that like the water that falls from the sky to fill the rivers, our souls descend from on high to fill the human body. The soul is to the body what water is to the river. A river without water is an empty canyon without purpose and the body without a soul is a lifeless skeleton without awareness, cognition or purpose.

From the riverbed the water is fed into a dark, dank and dirty tunnel. The waters travel through this tunnel for thousands of miles without emerging even once for a glimpse of sunlight or fresh air. It is constantly assaulted by obstacles through which it must crash or around which it must wash. At times the waters pass through passages so narrow as to generate extreme pressure when it crowds through, but despite the challenges the waters persevere and the journey continues unabated.

This is also true of the soul. Several years after entering an infant’s body the journey of life begins. To the soul, a heavenly creature, a life immersed in materialism and devoted to amassing wealth and pleasures is a journey through a dark and dank tunnel. Holiness is sparse in this tunnel, leaving the soul cold and unhappy.  The Divine presence is invisible, rendering the tunnel dark and dank.  Mitzvah opportunities are rare, rendering the tunnel narrow and claustrophobic.

The journey leaves the soul cold, dark and uncomfortable. We wonder why G-d puts it through this terrible journey, yet upon our passing it all becomes clear. The soul, when it emerges, is fresher, cleaner and holier than it ever was. Just as the tunnel filters and cleanses the water, so do the trials of earthly life strengthen and enhance the soul.

The soul is strengthened by life on earth because surviving with its holiness intact requires the soul to reach deep within and tap resources it never needed to draw on before. Just as runners come away strengthened when they challenge themselves to new distance so does the soul come away stronger every time it is challenged.[2]

Digging the Well

For all the miles that the waters travel, for all the improvements they undergo and for all the filtration they experience, they are useless until the well is discovered, which entails deep digging and careful sifting. The large boulders are the first be removed. Then comes the painstaking effort of clearing away the tiny pebbles. Only then can the happy moment arrive, when fresh water is struck.

The same is true of the soul. We are completely oblivious to the brilliant strength that enhances it until we uncover the soul, which entails careful digging. First, the boulders, our obvious sins, must be removed. Then we must wash away the pebbles, which are the less obvious obstacles to the soul. The pebbles are the permissible, but unnecessary material absorptions. Material pleasures are permitted to us, they were created for us to enjoy, but we weren’t created merely to enjoy them. We were created to use them in G-d’s service, but we can’t know that unless we step away from them first.

This means that we come to realize that the Mitzvos are not merely intended to grant meaning to life and its pleasures but that life and its pleasures are given to us so that we can fulfill the Mitzvos. Just like we discover that the silt in the tunnel was designed to filer the water so are we meant to discover that materialism and its pleasures were designed to give us opportunity for a Mitzvah. When we learn this truth our well is discovered and the soul’s long journey finally meets with success.

The entire journey is made possible by G-d’s blessing, which is why the ancient Israelites prayed fervently at the well. We too must pray that life’s journey be crowned with success. We can make every effort, but without G-d’s blessing we cannot succeed. This is why a true Jewish day begins with a prayer of supplication and a true Jewish day ends with a prayer of gratitude.[3]

[1] Numbers 21:15.

[2] On a deeper level, souls achieve holiness on earth because physical objects contain sparks of Divinity, embedded in them by G-d. When these objects are used in the performance of a Mitzvah the sparks are released from captivity and shine to their full capacity. These sparks are extremely bright; they need to be bright to reach this distant and unholy world. Think of it like a star. Only light from the brightest stars can traverse the vast distance and reach earth. When these sparks are released they shine brighter than any of the Divine lights available to the soul in heaven. Of course the body is oblivious to the light of these sparks, but the soul is nourished by them and nurtured to true greatness.

On an even deeper level one comprehends the strengthening of the soul in the dark tunnel as the intensity released by the power of transformation. When darkness is turned to light and bitter to sweet, the contrast is so stark as to be undeniable. Its impact is so marked that it can be neither ignored nor forgotten. It is as if the Almighty Himself put in an appearance and left a piece of Himself on earth. The soul, as agent of this transformative moment, is indelibly impressed and inalterably transformed.

[3] This essay is based on LIkitei Torah 62a.

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