The Portable Well

Supposing one day you went into the kitchen of your house, and turned on the water faucet, and nothing came out. And then you went to a water fountain for some cool water, and however much you pressed the lever, nothing happened. And throughout the United States, people were doing the same thing, and yet could not get any water. Wouldn't that be a terrible thing? And yet not so very many years ago, there was no water in people's houses like we have today. They had to have a well, to draw water from, that is, a hole in the ground, into which the waters underneath the earth can collect, and be drawn up to provide clear, cool, drinking water.

Wells were very important to people in the old days. So much so, that in the Torah, there is a little poem about a well. It goes like this:

Spring up, O well, sing unto her;
The well which the princes dug,
Which the nobles of the people carved out,
With the rod, and with their staves.

This well was called "Be'er", which, as a matter of fact is the Hebrew word for well. Being a well in the old days was really quite a nice life. You had no doubt about your usefulness, and everyone respected you, and treated you nicely, because they knew that if you went on strike, and dried up, or sprang up on someone else's land, they were really in trouble. Wells were not to be had so easily.

But Be'er was always unlucky. Ever since she had been created, she had a habit of springing up in places where no one lived. Of course, it was lonely, being all by herself in the desert, and so when she had gushed in vain for a few years, she would slowly sink down again, and wander through the channels beneath the earth, to break forth in a new spot.

One day, her heart jumped for joy. A caravan of wandering Beduin, that is, people who live in the desert, was approaching. "At last," she thought, "my waters will be of use." Straining her ears, she heard the voices of the party. "Look," said one of them, "there's a well. Let's go and encamp there." "No," said another, "it's just a mirage." And they turned and went away. Do you know what had happened? Sometimes in the desert, the sun shines in such a way, that it makes you think you see a well of water, which, of course, is not one at all, and this is called a mirage. And the Beduin thought that Be'er was a mirage, not a real well at all. She was disappointed, I can tell you.

Time passed, and she tried again. This time she sprang up in the land of Abraham, and Abraham's shepherds used to come and water their sheep from her. But then the Philistines came, and started to quarrel with Abraham's men over the well. They had terrible fights and squabbles over the ownership of the well. Eventually, Be'er gave up. "I do not want to be the cause of any fights," she said, and sank down again to look for a happier spot.

Generations passed. And now the children of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, had left Egypt, and were wandering in the wilderness. For days they journeyed on, and their supplies of water were getting lower and lower. Suddenly, Be'er decided to have one more try, and up she sprang -- and lo and behold, she was in the midst of the camp of the Hebrews who had been waiting, and hoping, and praying that she would appear. Of course, she was as delighted as they were. She gushed, and gurgled, and amid all the noise, the children of Israel were amazed to hear that she was actually singing.

I am the well which the princes dug (she sang)
Which the nobles of the people carved out,
With the rod and with their staves.

And the children of Israel, who were accustomed to strange things happening in the desert took up the strain:

You are the well which the princes dug,
Which the nobles of the people carved out,
With the rod and with their staves.

After that, Be'er never left the children of Israel. She followed them in all their forty years of wanderings. The princes would just say: "Spring up, Be'er," and up she would come to provide the children of Israel with her sweet waters.

This story almost has not got a moral. If you like to take it as further proof of the truth of the old saying

If you don't succeed the first time, try, try again -

please do so.

Incidentally, Be'er is now retired, but you can still see her if you want to. You have to go to Mount Carmel in Israel, and look towards the Sea of Tiberias. Then, if you are standing on the right spot, you will see the well, and perhaps even hear her sing. And if you do this, and do not see Be'er, it is not because she is not there. You just are not standing on the right place.