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Three Wells

by Tim O'Hearn

There are accounts in the Pentateuch of three wells, and the search for wives that occurred there. (Actually two were the same well, but at different times.) Rabbi Barry Freundel of Synagogue Kesher Israel in Washington DC, to whom I am indebted for the concept of this article, relates the stories to the importance of the proper treatment of water resources, a part of our obligation to take care of the earth God gave us. While that may be a symptom of man's decline, the stories of these wells certainly show the decline of society over time when a group of people doesn't follow God.

The first time we see the well is in Genesis 24. Abraham had sent a servant to the territory of his family to find a bride for Isaac. The servant arrived at an open well and determined a test to see who should be the bride to his master's son. He would ask the women who came to the well for water, and the woman who offered to water his camels as well would be the one he chose. This would be the one with the generosity appropriate to marry the son of the most generous man alive. This test, though, depends on a cynical, or at least practical, view of the society around the well. These people did not follow God. When Abraham had gone on under the direction of God they had stayed behind. The servant knew, then, that most of the women coming to the well would be less than generous. They would be concerned with their own business, and might offer him a drink but wouldn't take the time to water his camels.

This is one stage of a people who don't know God. If there is no God, then the highest concern is for ourselves. The degree to which we make ourselves God is the degree below the ideal at which we find ourselves. Unconcern for others is a beginning of the decline of a people.

The next time we see this well (Genesis 29) it has acquired a stone cover. Almost sixty years had passed, and for some reason the society now had to guard its well. The shepherds gathered at midday, not normally the time for watering, because everyone had to be present before the stone was rolled away. This was not because of the size of the stone, but to ensure nobody took water without everyone having an equal chance at it. Jacob broke custom by rolling the stone away and watering Rachel's flocks before everyone was gathered.

In just over half a century the society had deteriorated. Not only were they concerned primarily for their own welfare, they had become jealous of others. Lest someone gain an advantage at the expense of others, a stone had been rolled over the well. The same stone had been rolled over their hearts. A lack of concern for others had become jealous suspicion of others.

The third well is mentioned in Exodus 2. Moses had fled Egypt and come to the well. As he sat there the seven daughters of Jethro Reuel came to water their flocks. After they drew water the neighboring shepherds came to molest them. They drove the women's flocks away and took the water for themselves. This was apparently a daily occurrence, because after Moses defended them they got home earlier than usual; so early, in fact, that their father noticed the difference.

The society in Sinai had reached another level. They let someone else do the work, then took what they wanted. They were not only jealous of the water, they were violent and lazy. Not only did they not obey God, they had elevated themselves fully to gods in their own eyes.

Three wells; three levels of depravity. The tendency is toward worse behavior. But that tendency is away from God. Let us, rather work to make a society of Rebekahs. As the old maxim goes, "God first, others second, me last."