Toldos: Holy Digger
Why does the Torah stress that Isaac himself did the back-breaking manual labor of digging wells? Is that so complimentary? Where were all his servants?
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
"And Isaac dug anew the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham..." (Genesis 26:18)
Could you possibly imagine one of today's Rebbes or Rosh Yeshivas doing manual labor? And here, the Torah tells us about our forefather, Yitzchak Avinu, the holy Akeida who did the back-breaking labor of digging wells! Is that so complimentary? Where were all his servants? Why did he do the digging himself?
To answer our questions, here's a moving story that happened some years ago in the south of Israel:
A widow with four young children was struggling to keep her head above water. Her husband, a Torah scholar, passed away from a terminal illness and left the family with no financial cushion to fall back on. Barely able to put a few slices of bread with two hardboiled eggs on the table for her entire family supper, she now had to deal with an unexpected crisis that threatened to break her pocket and her spirit entirely: the main water pipe in her tiny apartment burst. Her neighbor immediately helped her to close the main faucet that led into her apartment, so she was now with no money and no water.
Tearfully, she looked up to the Heavens and said, "Hashem, help me – I can't hold on much more like this." She picked up the local yellow pages and opened it to "Plumbers"; she closed her eyes and moved her finger down the page. "Hashem, send me Your messenger! You are the merciful Father of the widows and the orphans..."
She called a name and number. It happened to be a Torah scholar who learned all day long and made a living by working for a few hours a night as a plumber. It was 8PM: "I'll be right over," said the voice on the other end of the line. "I live 5 minutes away from you."
The plumber had to do some serious digging, both in the floor and in the wall to replace the corroded 50+ year-old pipe. He toiled for nearly three back-breaking hours but the job was successfully completed.
With tears of gratitude in her eyes, the widow asked, "How much do I owe you?"
The plumber surveyed the humble apartment and the children dressed in threadbare hand-me-downs. He understood that the woman's husband had departed from this world and she was all on her own. "You don't owe me a thing," he said. "The City Department of Renewal pays me to replace the old pipes in this neighborhood. They pay me handsomely. You owe me nothing." He said "good night" to the astonished widow and left.
Seventeen years past. The plumber's wife gave birth to their tenth child. They could no longer continue in their 3-bedroom apartment. Yet, the plumber had a problem. Over the years, he had saved up enough money to purchase a lot in a new neighborhood outside of town. He wanted to build a house large enough for his family, and even if he did the plumbing himself, he could only afford the rest of the labor and not the building materials. Yet, he wanted to know how much he needed to pray for. He took the plans for his new home and the list of needed materials to several building-supplies wholesalers, one of which was AAA Building Supplies, a new, successful and fast-growing company that was highly recommended.
As soon as he walked into the warehouse showroom, the young proprietor of AAA walked over to the plumber and with a big smile said, "How can I help you, sir?"
In accordance with Halacha, the plumber said, "I don't have the money to purchase this list now, but with Hashem's help, I hope to in the future. Would it be possible to get an estimate? I have a plot of land in the new neighborhood north of town that I want to build on."
"Where?" asked the proprietor.
"Kiryat Ganim," the plumber answered.
"Give me see that list," said the proprietor. "Come into my office – I'll be happy to work out an estimate for you. It will take me a day or two, so give me a call the day after tomorrow or stop in."
The next day, the plumber went to do some work on his lot. He had borrowed a tractor from one of the neighbors and levelled the lot, preparing it for building the foundations of the new house. While he was working, a big crane-equipped truck drove up. The driver began unloading pallets of cement, cinder blocks, metal rods and other materials on his lot.
"Hey guys," the plumber called out, "you've got the wrong address."
The driver looked at the delivery invoice and said, "Is this the Abramson lot?"
"I'm Abramson and this is my lot, but I didn't order any building materials."
"I'm not crazy," said the driver. "It says here that you did."
The plumber looked at the invoice – it was from AAA Building Supplies. He whipped out his cellphone and called them, demanding to speak to the young proprietor. "What kind of scam is this? I ask for an estimate and you send me a whole truckload?" There was everything on that truck that he needed to build his house.
"No, it's no scam," said the proprietor. The merchandise has been paid for in full."
"What?!?! Who paid for it?" probed the plumber.
"The same City Department of Renewal that paid for the repair of the burst pipe our apartment seventeen years ago, when I was an twelve year-old orphan with three hungry siblings and a widowed mom who was about to crack under the pressure. I recognized you right away when you walked into the showroom. I prayed that someday you'd be repaid big-time for your indescribable kindness. Now get to work - Hashem wants you to build your house..."
Our forefather Isaac didn't leave the hallowed task of settling the Land of Israel to his servants. He dug the wells with his own two hands. Like everything else he did, it was for Hashem's sake and for the benefit of future generations, so that the Land of Israel would be inhabited with the seed of Abraham instead of the savage and idolatrous locals...
When you come to visit Israel, you'll see new tunnels that broaden the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. You'll see new tunnels all over the country for express trains and metropolitan tunnels like the one in Ashdod that takes you right to the beach. And, while Hashem is building tunnels in Israel, the tunnels that terrorists from Gaza build to infiltrate Israel are caving in one by one.
Hashem runs the world in measure-for-measure fashion. One compassionate mitzvah today invokes Divine compassion on one's offspring for generations to come. Don't miss the chance of doing a mitzvah with your own hands. Meanwhile, let's get to work, for Hashem wants us to build our country.
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.