Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Join us each week as we journey across the United States and gather words of Torah from rabbanim representing each of the fifty states. This week we are pleased to feature divrei Torah from Rabbi Barry Dolinger of Providence, Rhode Island.


The Sfas Emes, Reb Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the grandfather of the current Gerrer Rebbe, wrote one of the greatest Chassidic sefarim. His insights cut sharply to the core of important spiritual issues, but often in a language that is terse or difficult to interpret. Commenting on the notion of wells which serve several important functions and feature prominently in Parshas Toldos but also throughout the book of Breishis, the Sfas Emes comments:

. . . My grandfather and teacher used to say this about the wells the patriarchs dug. Everywhere there is a hidden point of G-d. We only have to remove the external covering in order to reveal the innermost point, which is called “a well of living waters” (Gen. 26:19; Song of Songs 4:15). On weekdays this well is called esek (“preoccupation”) or sitnah (“accusation”). But on the Sabbath it is called rehovot (expanse). The words of the wise are gracious.[1]

The fact that our forefathers regularly dug wells, met their spouses by wells, etc. is not merely a function of the Torah’s narrative, as one might think. Rather, in classic Chassidic style, it is understood to represent the avodah or spiritual work that our forefathers commonly engaged in. Moving past and beyond a distracting physical world, they were able to perceive the “life” of the soul represented by the water buried beneath the ground. This idea is represented by the dual notion of kodesh and chol, Shabbos and weekday.

The Mishna Berura notes that the Ari HaKadosh, zt’l, was accustomed to praying with his eyes closed during the week, but would pray with his eyes open on Shabbos. During the week, he closed his eyes because reality, in many ways, represented an impediment to the realization of the Blessed Creator’s presence within all that exists. On Shabbos, the Divine Presence is palpable even within the physical world. Only taken together, as a complete unit, is the whole complete.

It seems to me that the practice of the Arizal is exactly what the Sfas Emes is noting and presents a balanced yet deeply spiritual teaching that is vital to internalize. The avos are represented as fully engaged on two fronts, spiritual and physical. Our service is not, ideally, to reject or run from the world in favor of a purely ascetic spiritual existence. Nor, on the other hand, were we created exclusively to engage in political, pragmatic, or physical pursuits. Rather, oscillation is the order of the day. Water from the well, prayer, study, and regular reminders of the Divine Presence and G-d’s unity serve as poles of inspiration; from there, we re-engage the work week, aware, and return regularly to recharge.



Providence represents a melding of old and new. In many ways, it is a throwback community. Children regularly walk and bike to school down tree-lined streets surrounded by charming New England architecture. Traffic is relatively non-existent, and commuting from the suburban East Side to downtown takes between ten-fifteen minutes during rush hour. One can drive through the entire state from the Connecticut border to the Massachusetts border in under an hour. Families are regularly able to spend ample time together, and the state’s small size makes for a friendly and personal environment. The entire state feels like a small community in all of the best ways. Living there is quite affordable, especially as compared to other Jewish communities in the region. At the same time, there is a thriving cultural scene dominated by the arts, theater, food, and the many universities that call Providence and Rhode Island home. Providence is known as the Creative Capital, and is currently experiencing a serious urban renewal that energizes both the state at large and the local Jewish community.


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Rabbi Barry Dolinger and his wife, Naomi, moved to Providence, Rhode Island, during the summer of 2011. Looking for an improvement in their quality of life, and an escape from the perpetual rat race and background anxiety inherent in living in New York City, they were delighted to receive an offer to serve as the rabbi and rebbetzin of Congregation Beth Sholom, a modern Orthodox synagogue on the beautiful East Side of Providence. Naomi is currently finishing her last semester in pursuit of her master’s degree in speech therapy at the University of Rhode Island. In addition to serving as rabbi, Rabbi Dolinger practices law.