We live in a time of contention and strife. Perhaps human beings always have, but these days our conflicts seem intractable, without the possibility of resolution, a zero sum game where if one side wins the other loses completely. This is a worldview based on fear and scarcity. There are times when conflict and strife may be necessary, but there are also times when we must find a way of reconciliation and peace. Water is the source of life for nomadic desert peoples. Without it they will die. What could be more essential or a greater source of conflict?
In this week’s Torah portion, Isaac and his servants reopen the wells that his father Abraham had dug and they find a spring of fresh water. But the shepherds of Gerar, their neighbors, claim it as their own. So Isaac names the well Esek, which means “contention.” Then they dig another well and the shepherds of Gerar dispute with them over that one too, so Isaac calls it Sitnah, meaning “harassment.” After these two conflicts Isaac moved farther away from Gerar, “and dug yet another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he called it Rehoboth, saying, “Now at last the LORD has granted us ample space to increase in the land.” (Genesis 26:22).
The word rehoboth is connected to the Hebrew verb, l’harhiv, to expand, broaden or amplify. Rather than fight with his neighbors over the precious resource of water, Isaac broadened his view and increased the amount of water available, eliminating the source of the conflict.
May we all learn to be like Isaac. To grow our resources, be generous, find ways for all to share in the bounty of God’s earth, and reject the view that there can only be winners and losers. Perhaps then we find a way out of conflict.
~Rabbi Dean Kertesz