When my mother died, I realized the hole she left in our family was not only in our hearts, but in the routine of our lives. She was the one who organized family vacations, holiday dinners, and connected us to other family and friends. In addition, she gave time and money to organizations in the community that depended on her support. There are ways in which, when a parent dies, we are needed to step into their shoes, making sure that the things they did for us and others can continue.
This week’s Torah portion includes a story about Isaac carrying on his father’s work. Genesis 26:18 relates, “Isaac dug anew the wells which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death; and he gave them the same names that his father had given them.” Some commentators see this as an example of Isaac’s dullness. Rather than creating something new, he repeats what his father did before him.
My experience with my mother’s death, however, has allowed me to see this aspect of Isaac’s life in a different way. Whether we take the story literally or metaphorically, digging wells for water is essential for survival. There are certain aspects of an individual’s life which must be taken up by those who come after if the things that nourish us—family, friends, community—are to go on. It may require unexciting tasks, such as digging wells or making phone calls, but there can be great value in carrying on the work of our parents.
–Rabbi Drorah Setel