A teaching from the Baal Shem Tov on Parshat Toldot.
And Isaac again dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of his father, Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death; and he gave them names like the names that his father had given them. And Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and they found there a well of living waters. Genesis 26:18-19
All of the patriarchs dug wells to find water — its secret meaning, to find the Torah that is in the dust. The Baal Shem Tov taught that each of the patriarchs revealed the Torah that was embedded in the dust, that is, in the lower realms, and each did so through his own unique virtue… The Philistines who stopped up the wells are the klipot, the material husks of the world that hide the holiness within. But Isaac returned and redug the wells once again, and even though they were wells that had been dug by his father, it is still called ‘revealing,’ [as if it were new water]. Much of that water still lies hidden. Even though it was the patriarchs who dug the wells and made the water-drawing possible, the living water still lies hidden; the Torah awaits our coming to redeem it and reveal it.
This teaching is a kind of manifesto for this blog. Ever since Moses, Jews have been finding new meaning in the Torah, and in the “new meanings” of previous generations. Hasidism was at once a very conservative and radical movement within Judaism, and here you can see the Baal Shem Tov explaining where he gets off saying some of the far out things he said: he’s only following in the footsteps of our ancestors, like Abraham, the idol-smashing rebel and pioneer of monotheism, and like his son Isaac, a very different personality who still found living waters of his own by digging in his father’s wells. I don’t agree with everything I translate here, but I wouldn’t believe what I do without at least having read them; likewise, I’ve said some things on this blog I’m sure the authors of these texts wouldn’t hold with. But at the same time, I’m trying to follow their lead, finding new meaning in old texts, believing that the meaning was waiting for us all along, and I’ll name this, too, Torah, just like the Besht did. As he taught, “We say God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob and not God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for Isaac and Jacob did not rely on the searching and service of Abraham; they themselves searched for the unity of the Creator and His service.”