Parashat Toldot

Digging Wells, Conserving Water

Now is the time for the Jewish people to respond to regional and global concerns about water scarcity.

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Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

The limited resources of the world we live in affect wide spheres of influence. Resources that are more essential and uncompromising have greater potential to lead to conflict and war. In this week's Torah portion, Toldot, Isaac faces conflict with the Philistines and the people of Gerar rooted in the age-old struggle surrounding the scarcity of water.

The shepherds of Gerar claim, "The water is ours" (Gen. 26:20) and effectively expel Isaac from the area of the well in contention, forcing him to find a new source of water. Contrary to this behavior, the Philistines simply fill up the wells Isaac used with dirt. That is to say, the desires of the Philistines to hurt Isaac as a result of their jealousy toward him brought them to the place where they preferred to destroy their own ability to draw water from the wells in order to attain a political end.

canfei nesharimThe issue of water is one of the most primary issues--perhaps even the largest issue--impacting the environment and more directly and immediately influencing mankind's current quality of living. Today, we are not merely dealing with a potential environmental crisis that threatens tomorrow's generations--we face environmental questions that have very concrete and specific ramifications in our own world.

Water is the concern that requires us to directly face the undeniable and harsh realization that the world's natural resources are critically limited, and that all of creation is dependent on the existence of these natural treasures.

No-War Zone

Our Torah portion can offer some insight into dealing with Israel's contemporary water crisis. The first teaching is the necessity to remove natural resources from the realm of destruction in times of conflict and war. The fact that the Philistines deliberately filled up the wells of Isaac in order to expel him from their midst reflects the dangers of war and the need to protect natural resources even in times of serious conflict.

The Torah comes to place limits on our ability to respond harshly during war and forbids us from wantonly destroying fruit-bearing trees as a military tactic (Deut. 20:19). Even in the midst of struggle one must take the "day after" into consideration and understand the profound need for sustainability for both sides of a conflict.

Find More Water Sources

The Torah also describes the process of developing additional water sources. Isaac was forced to abandon the wells of his father, as well as some of his own wells, and he continuously searched for new sources of water (Gen. 26:18-22). We too are bound by the unremitting task of developing supplementary sources of water, and we must avoid relying solely on what exists.

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Rabbi Yuval Cherlow

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikva, is a graduate of Yeshivat Har Etzion and a retired major in the IDF. Rabbi Cherlow was amongst the founders of the Tzohar Foundation, a central Modern Orthodox foundation which works to build bridges between the religious and secular worlds.