Biblical Wellsprings, Water in our World

The three Abrahamic traditions all emerged in a region of our planet where rain is scarce, water is precious, and wellsprings are miraculous.

The biblical tradition points to wellsprings as places where marriages are made (Isaac and Rebekah,  Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Tzipporah), where war is averted and peace is made (Abraham and Avimelekh), where God saves lives (Hagar and Ishmael).

The well-springs of tradition are both physical memories recorded in the text, and the spiritual well-springs of the Tradition itself.

You would think these ancient teachings of the sacredness of water would teach us to treat water as sacred in our own day.

Not so. Now human actions all around our planet are making more and more regions water-scarce. Unprecedented droughts in Russia, in the corn country of the USA, in Australia. global scorching scorches our crops, withering what had promised abundance. Farmers despair as their crops die and their livestock starve, and those who have to pay higher prices for food despair as well.But Big Oil and Big Coal profit.

And some corporations are pursuing profits from fossil fuels in a way that not only scorches the planet for decades, but directly and immediately poisons the waters of life to do it. That is “fracking” —   poisoning  deep wells of water with methane and many secret chemicals in order to use this poisoned water, under intense pressure, to “hydrofracture” the gas bound up in shale rock.  And burn it.

Fracking poisons the water of the nearby farmers, and scorches Planet Earth. Turn on the water faucets in some nearby farm-houses, put a match to the water, and it burns like a torch — from the methane that is part of fracking.

What’s more,  Cornell scientists and other scientists are finding that fracked natural gas likely is releasing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than coal. Methane, the primary ingredient of natural gas, is a far more powerful scorch-Earth gas than CO2.

So much for “clean” natural gas.

The scarcity of water can bring despair. But it can also bring action, hope, vision, change.  In Tunisia, the first stirrings of the Arab Spring came  from a jump in the price of  bread when the drought in Russia forced wheat prices higher.  But newborn democracy cannot survive if  greedy corporations continue to scorch our lives, making huge profits that then get plowed into domineering political power, while everyone else gets poorer.

Newborn democracies — or long-established ones. Like the USA.

So to save our wellsprings of life, we should be investing not in a “man-on-the-moon” project but in a similarly large and devoted and creative “Humanity with the Earth” project, to replace fossil-fuels with renewable energy. That would reduce the droughts that deny us sacred, life-giving water.

What can we do about the corporate destruction of our waters and our planet? Between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur this year, during the profound Ten Days of turning our lives in a more compassionate direction, on September 20-21, the corporate bosses of the Frack-Your-Water industry are having a national convention in Philadelphia.

So a coalition of organizations committed to healing our Earth, our air and water, are gathering in Philadelphia on Thursday, Sept 20, for a rally, a march, and an interfaith service for “Blessing of the Waters.” For details, please click here: http://shalegasoutrage.org/shale-gas-outrage-2012-philadelphia/ http://shalegasoutrage.org/shale-gas-outrage-2012-philadelphia/>

And on Friday morning, there will be a nonviolent direct action in which a group of independent activists, including me and others from The Shalom Center, will take part.

As we face frackin
g in these days ahead, there are two of the Biblical passages on wellsprings that may be especially powerful as teachings to us. (They are especially noteworthy in Jewish practice right now, because they appear in the two days of Torah reading for the two days of Rosh HaShanah.)


In one, Hagar, weeping  in sorrow that her water has run out and that she and her son Ishmael may soon die of thirst in the desert, hears  a Voice tell her to open her eyes. And there is the wellspring  she had named “The Well of the Living One Who Sees Me”! Her own tears have watered into being the wellspring  of her life, and Ishmael’s. (Gen. 21: 14-20)

In the other reading, the nomad shepherd Abraham struggles with the chieftain Avimelekh over who is entitled to a wellspring. The chieftain’s armed marauders have taken possession of the well. But the disempoered nomad and the powerful chieftain pursue diplomacy, not war. They work it out and take an oath of amity. They slaughter seven lambs as a symbol of  agreement.  They name the well “Beer Sheva.” This is an ”action pun”: the word for “seven” is sheva, and the word for “oath’ is sheva . (
Gen. 21: 22-34.)

What brought about the shift from violence by Avimelekh’s marauders to the oath of amity; the shift between verses 25 and 26? We might imagine (here be midrash!) that Abraham and his friends responded to the attack upon them by sitting in a silent circle at the well. Just sitting. Nonviolently, they protested the attack against them. And then Avimelekh in his turn responded, saying “I did not realize till this moment how much this meant to you.”

So we can learn that Abraham, facing a local ruler much more powerful then he, neither backed down nor resorted to violence. Like the civil-rights workers 50 years ago, he stood his ground — nonviolently. And that’s what we need to do, facing the Fracking Corporations that are more powerful than we are — so far.

There is still another profound teaching in our Rosh HaShanah Torah readings. Hagar saves her own and Ishmael’s lives by weeping.  Her tears stir God, her tears become the well of water.

Today, we might say that grief can open us to action.

Weep, REALLY weep, for our wounded Earth, and our grief can stir ourselves to heal it.

Weep, REALLY weep, and then come to Philadelphia on September 20-21 and join in the effort to heal the jagged wounds the Fracking Bosses have slashed upon our region, our country, our Earth.

Universal: 

Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Torah Portions: