Wells play an important role in the Torah. Abraham and his son Isaac measure wealth in terms of the many wells they have dug (Genesis 26:12-22). The Torah has a number of stories about matches being made at a village well. That makes sense since the job of drawing water often went to the young women of the house, and the well was a place where men and women might mingle with propriety (the original “watering hole”).  Abraham’s servant/matchmaker finds Rebecca, the bride for Isaac, at a well where she generously offers to water his thirsty camels (Genesis 24:10-28)  Moses, too, meets his future wife Tzipporah, at a well (Exodus 2:15-21), after driving off some bullying shepherds. Learn more about the importance of wells in the Bible.

There are many kinds of wells. The “wishing well” image  that comes to mind today may be very different from some of the dug wells that were used in ancient Israel:

biblical-well-graphic

Dug wells have been around since ancient times. The Old Testament twice mentions the well of Bethlehem, located by the city gate (Samuel 23:15 and 1 Chronicles 11:17).  Many of these wells—some of  which are still in use today—were dug at an incline with wide, elongated stone steps leading gently down to an underground chamber at the bottom of which there was a subterranean pool of water.  Jars and pitchers were filled with water at the edge of the pool and balanced on the head on the way up.  Such wells are only practical in arid climates where there is not much risk of contamination from surface runoff.”Water Well Helpline

 

 

Biblical Tamar, via Bible Walks. com, Holy Land Biblical sites review

Biblical Tamar, via Bible Walks. com, Holy Land Biblical sites review

A classic scene at a well is found in the Torah, Genesis 29, where Jacob meets his future wife Rachel. Inspired by the sight of his beautiful cousin, he rolls a heavy stone from the local well so that she can water her sheep:

Then Jacob lifted up his feet, and came to the land of the people of the east. He looked, and beheld a well in the field, and there were three flocks of sheep lying by it. For from that well they watered the flocks, and a large stone was upon the well’’s mouth. There were all the flocks gathered; and they rolled the stone from the well’’s mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone back again upon the well’’s mouth.Jacob said, “Brothers, where are your from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.” He said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they answered, “We know him.” He said, “Is he well?”* And they answered, “He is well; and, here, Rachel his daughter, is coming with the sheep.”
Blue Hole, headwaters of the San Antonio River (JHD)
He [Jacob] said, “It is still broad daylight, too early to gather the animals. Water the sheep, and then take them to pasture.” But they answered, “We cannot, until all the flocks are rounded up, and until they roll the stone from the well’s mouth. Then we will water the sheep.” And while he was speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was the shepherd.
When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of his uncle Laban, and the flock of his uncle Laban, that Jacob came near and rolled the stone from the well’’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and raised his voice, and wept.
*This pun on the word “well” is only in the English translation. In Hebrew the question is if he has Shalom (meaning peace,well-being. . . )

 

Questions to Ponder: From the book of Genesis on, meetings at well are everyday occasions that can have momentous results for future generations. The biblical ancestors who met at wells made what Jews have called a “shidduch,” bringing together two people for marriage. The term has extended to making any kind of match between people or groups that results in greater creative, generative power. The well is often taken as a symbol of something deep and life-giving. In Jewish tradition, water is associated with Torah and even with divinity. The hidden nature of the well, underground, gives a sense that the real, long-term reverberations of the meeting are hidden from those present at the moment. Have you had, or witnessed, such a “meeting at the well”? Was it connecting with your “basherte” (intended match), with a community, a movement, or something else?

 

Featured Image: Young women fetching water at well in Hassan, Karnataka, India, undated, via Wikimedia Commons

Learn a Midrash about wells and springs, or return to the Gateway of Water from Underground.

 

 

 

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