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Parshat Chayai Sarah: Water from the Well

Oh the water in the well and the healing in the well 
The women and the water and the hope that’s in the well

Oh the water in the well and the healing in the well 
The women and the water and the hope that’s in the well  (Lyrics by D. Friedman)

This week’s Torah portion, Chayai Sarah is about healing. It is about hope; and, it is about about meeting at well. 

At the beginning of the Torah portion, we read about the death of Sarah. After burying and mourning his wife, Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac. When he arrives in the city of Nahor he is met by Rebecca, who quickly draws water from the well for both him and his camels. She and her family proceed to welcome him into their home, to offer shelter and hospitality. 

These traits of hospitality, welcoming, and care for others is a constant through the generations. Last week, I stood right here and read from the Torah on Shabbat morning, with our entire religious school present, about Abraham’s hospitality. Abraham, Rebecca’s future father in law, greeted three strangers much in the same fashion - immediately hospitable, offering water, food, and shelter from the desert heat.

As we would later learn, when synagogues around the country read these words, a man armed with AR-15 style gun entered Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, opening fire on Shabbat morning services, ultimately killing eleven people and injuring more. One of the worst anti-semitic attacks in American history, joining the long list of senseless acts of gun violence. 

This has been a week of crying, yelling, hugging, praying, and coming together. Last night, at our county-wide interfaith vigil, we were united in the face of hatred. So many of our clergy partners throughout Pittsfield and beyond have reached out to me, saying, we are in this together. Sharing words of healing. Words of hope. You are not alone. Here is some cool water to drink. Come to the well. 

We lean on each other at different times. Sometimes it is our turn to give out a cool drink of water from the well, and sometimes it is our turn to receive it from someone else.

The well remains a central image for us throughout the Torah. During our forty years desert, a well of water follows Miriam, and sustains the people as they wander. 

When Miriam dies, the well dries up. The people get thirsty. The people get restless. The people get angry. Moses, I would imagine, also gets thirsty. Moses gets restless. Moses gets angry. Instead of talking to the rock, as God instructs, Moses strikes the rock. Moses’ anger gets the best of him, and as a result, he will never enter the Promised Land.

We have every right to be sad about the events of last week. We have every right to be angry. Like Moses, anger can only get us so far, and it won’t get us to the Promised Land.

What can we do with our sadness and anger?

We can come together to sing and pray. We can come together for healing and hope. We can join hands across faiths and exclaim - not in our community. There is no place for hatred here.

On November 6th, Election Day, we can vote our values. We learn in Pirke Avot - al tifrosh min hatzibor - do not separate yourself from the community - voting is how we participate in the life of our community, our state, and our nation. As your rabbi, I will never tell you who to vote for - I will simply tell you to vote. Listen to the words and observe the actions of the candidates in front of you next week. Are they fomenting fear, division, and anger? Are they speaking words of unity, respect, and love?

Finally, we can come together at the well. Our Temple, our community, Shabbat - this place, these people, this time - this is our well of sustenance, hope, strength, and healing. 

We take a deep drink of cool water. We’ve been out in the heat of the desert, and together, as we #showupforshabbat, we’ll get out of the blazing sun. We hold each other up. We will be together and support each other. It’s been a Jewish family tradition, since Abraham, Rebecca, and Miriam. It’s just what we do. Thank you for being together tonight. Thank you for gathering here at the well. Shabbat shalom.

Wed, May 22 2024 14 Iyyar 5784