The story recounted in these weeks’ Parshiyos concerning the digging of wells by Avraham and Yitzchak do not seem to justify the extensive `coverage’ given it by the Torah. The Mefarshim find many levels of meaning in these incidents, but the question remains what lesson is the Torah trying to teach by such emphasis on this chapter in the lives of our forefathers.
In the Sefer Chofetz Chaim Al HaTorah, (Bereishis 26:19) the great Chofetz Chaim asks this question and answers with characteristic forthrightness and deep insight. He says: “A person should never despair when an endeavor or effort he is involved with does not succeed at first. When Yitzchak Avinu dug a well and did not find water, he would dig another, and another, until he found water. If he dug a well and the servants of Avimelech stopped them up and filled them with earth, he dug other wells until they stopped fighting with him and he finally had a well with water.”
The Chofetz Chaim goes on to point out that this approach works in both the physical and spiritual realms. If someone is not successful in a business venture at first, keep trying and success will come. If someone is not successful in Torah learning, don’t give up, because you will achieve your goal in the end.
When we think of the usual human reaction to setback, adversity and failure, we see sadness, jealousy, frustration, anger, hatred at competitors, feelings of inadequacy, blaming others’ shortcomings, etc. The list is seemingly endless. Our forefather Yitzchak’s behavior is pointing out to us – these reactions are a colossal waste of time and effort on our part. They are totally fruitless and worse yet, counterproductive! Don’t dwell on finding fault, even with yourself, or blaming others. Certainly assess the situation, strategize perhaps. And then try again. Keep at it. If one approach doesn’t work, try a different one.
This is all certainly true for children. When they don’t do well in their learning, deep down they frequently blame themselves. On the outside they manifest these feelings in different ways. They may stop trying, become defiant, appear to become lazy, express inadequacy, blame the teacher, avoid work, become anxious and so on. Encouragement is key. (Even if outside professional intervention is also warranted – it’s the child’s continued effort that will carry the day.) Parents can model for their children how to approach a setback, how to deal when someone else lets you down, how to problem solve. Don’t wait for others or outside circumstances to change. We can effectuate change from within ourselves. Keep trying. If the first method didn’t succeed, try a different way, but keep trying.
In school, we speak to the children about a `growth mindset.’ That means you don’t get stuck in doing things only one way, you don’t give up easily, and you actively seek and embrace alternative approaches to solving problems – be they academic, behavioral or social. Growth mindsets have existed in Klal Yisrael at least since Yitzchak Avinu was digging well after well. His ultimate success in finding wells with flowing water should serve as an inspiration to us and our children to continue to seek the wellsprings of a successful life, BE”H.
Best wishes for a Shabbos overflowing with Bracha,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann