Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 7 December 2019 / 9 Kislev 5780

Parshat Vayeitzei

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Assets for Life, Assets for Nationhood

Yaakov flees from his livid, bloodthirsty brother Esav and arrives penniless in his mother’s birthplace, the land of Aram. He has nothing but the shirt on his back and he is tasked with starting a life and family. In the first episode upon his arrival at the well, we learn of the assets which Yaakov drew upon to build his future.

When Yaakov approached the well, he noticed the flocks along with their shepherds gathered by the well. A heavy stone covered the well — so heavy that it required the collective effort of many shepherds to roll it off.

We might expect the cover of a communal well to be light for the convenience of the many people who need access to the well. But here — in Aram — people do not trust each other to take only their fair share of water. Hence, they made the cover so heavy that only in the presence of many and by a combined effort could the well be used. Yaakov’s most conspicuous asset was his physical strength. What others could do only by combined effort, he did alone and without strain. This would prove a critical material asset and would enable him to work days and nights for 20 years in the home of Lavan.

The second asset revealed here is Yaakov’s unshakable sense of justice and rectitude. Yaakov cannot tolerate dereliction of duty. He chides the shepherds — complete strangers — whom he finds idly biding their time: The day is yet young! It is not yet time that the ‘property’ [sheep] should be gathered in. Water the sheep and go, pasture them. He cannot tolerate their shirking responsibility to the property owners. This trait, too, will serve Yaakov well under the most trying conditions of servitude in Lavan’s home.

Third, Yaakov displays his enthusiastic work ethic and alacrity in action. He rushes to someone’s aid, even where the matter does not affect him personally — a trait that we may not have expected of one who has been described until now as one who sits and studies in his tent.

Yaakov’s personality — the seeds of the personality of the Jewish People — comes into view. This nation will be called on to represent with equal dignity the various material and spiritual pursuits of life. With strength, integrity and industriousness, the Jewish personality is forged.

  • Source: Commentary, Genesis 29:10-12

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