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In the Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashana, Hagar and Ishmael have been sent off into the desert and have run out of water. Hagar sits crying, out of sight of her son so as not to see him die. She has given up hope.

At this point, just as in the story of the Akeda in the reading for the next day (why does nobody ever seem to make anything of the parallels between the two stories? A topic for another drash), the deus ex machina appears and saves their lives.

וַיִּפְקַח אֱלֹהִים אֶת עֵינֶיהָ וַתֵּרֶא בְּאֵר מָיִם וַתֵּלֶךְ וַתְּמַלֵּא אֶת הַחֵמֶת מַיִם וַתַּשְׁקְ אֶת הַנָּעַר

And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.

What exactly happened with this well? The commentaries are mostly silent, but I see 3 possibilities.

  1. A well miraculously appears. This seems to be implied by Bereshit Rabba 53, 14 where the angels challenge God to justify why he is raising up a well for Ishmael, whose descendants would deny water to the exiles from Jerusalem, according to midrashim on Isaiah 21, 13. (If you were wondering, the answer is that God only judges people as they are at the present moment, also a topic for another drash)
  2. God gives Hagar some kind of supernatural perception, or dowsing ability, which enables her to discover a hidden well. Seforno’s commentary is saying either this or the next possibility:
  3. The well was there all the time and Hagar only notices it when God points it out. (I imagine her even sitting on the edge of the well or tripping over it without realizing, rather like Mole on Badger’s door-scraper in The Wind in the Willows.) She had been so absorbed in her problems that she wasn’t letting herself see the solution to them which was right in front of her face.

I had a similar eyeopener this week. I discovered, after 15 years of thinking it was beyond my abilities, that by acting according to a few simple principles I can increase the happiness of the person whose happiness is most important to me out of all proportion to the effort required. What a New Year’s present for us both!