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VAYEITZEI 2ND READING - with integrated commentary of Rashi

by Rabbi Boruch Merkur

Following his profound encounter at what he named Beth-El, Jacob continued his journey with renewed vigor and purpose. The choice of wording "Now Jacob lifted his feet" symbolizes more than just the physical act of walking; it reflects a significant shift in his spirit. The assurance of divine protection and guidance he received in his dream invigorated him, turning his journey into one of confidence and hope. This was not just a man walking; it was a man uplifted by faith, emboldened by the promise of God's presence and protection.


Jacob's journey to the land of the people of the East was a pivotal moment in the fulfillment of the covenant God made with Abraham and Isaac. His steps towards a new land also entailed moving towards the fulfillment of his destiny as a patriarch in the lineage of Israel. The journey symbolized a transition, a stepping into the promises and plans laid out for him by God.


In this narrative, we see a blend of divine providence and human action. Jacob's lifted feet symbolize his active participation in God's plan, a willingness to step into the unknown, trusting in the protection and promise of God. This journey was a testament to Jacob's faith and determination, qualities that would shape his experiences in the land of the people of the East and beyond.


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In the next phase of Jacob's journey, as he arrived in the land of the people of the East, he encountered a scene emblematic of life's sustenance and community - a well in the field. This was no ordinary well; it was a meeting place for the flocks and their shepherds, a source of life in the open field. The presence of three flocks of sheep resting near it signified its importance as a communal resource, essential for the survival and prosperity of the flocks.


The detail of a huge rock covering the well's mouth is particularly notable, as it symbolizes both protection and communal effort. The rock's size meant that it was not a task for one shepherd to remove it alone, suggesting a sense of community among the shepherds. They would gather together to remove this rock, enabling them to water their flocks. This scene beautifully encapsulates the themes of cooperation and interdependence, vital in a pastoral society.


This setting was more than just a physical location; it was a representation of the dynamics of human relationships and dependencies. It highlighted the necessity of working together for common goals - in this case, accessing the life-giving water. For Jacob, who was embarking on a new chapter of his life, this scene might have also reflected the new relationships and communities he would encounter and become part of in his journey ahead.


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Jacob's journey led him to a well in the field, a crucial meeting point for the local shepherds. This well, covered by a large stone, required collective effort to access the water beneath. The scene is a powerful illustration of community and cooperation. The shepherds would wait until all the flocks had gathered before working together to roll the stone away. Once the sheep were watered, they would replace the stone, ensuring the well's protection and maintaining its status as a shared resource.


This moment captures the essence of communal life in ancient times. The well, as a vital resource, necessitated collaboration and mutual understanding among the shepherds. The act of rolling the stone and sharing the water was more than a physical task, it was a social ritual, reinforcing bonds and ensuring fair access for all.


Jacob, witnessing this, saw a reflection of the broader human experience. Just as the shepherds depended on each other to access the well's life-sustaining water, individuals in a community rely on one another for support and survival. The well thus becomes a metaphor for the resources and opportunities that, when shared and managed responsibly, can benefit an entire community.


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Arriving at this pivotal well in the field, Jacob found himself in the midst of shepherds from various places. He approached them with the respectful and friendly address, "My brothers." His question, "Where are you from?" was more than a mere inquiry about their geographical origins. It was an opening, a way to establish a connection with these fellow shepherds, to understand the context of their journey, and perhaps to find common ground.


Their response, "We are from Haran," revealed a crucial link to Jacob's own story. Haran was the very destination of Jacob's journey, a place deeply entwined with his family's history and his future. This simple yet profound connection, would have resonated with Jacob, affirming his path and intertwining his story with theirs in the broader picture of shared experiences and destinations. It is a moment of realization and connection, a small yet significant piece of the larger narrative unfolding in Jacob's life.


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In his continued conversation with the shepherds, Jacob's inquiry takes a more personal turn. He asks them, "Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?" This question was deeply rooted in Jacob's own story and purpose. Beyond being a notable figure in Haran, Laban was also Jacob's uncle, his mother's brother. Jacob's journey to Haran was, in part, a quest to connect with his mother's family, following the directive of his parents to find a wife from his own kin.


The shepherds' response, "We know [him]," opens a direct link to Jacob's familial goal. Their simple acknowledgment indicates Laban's presence and known status in the region, confirming to Jacob that he was in the right place, moving closer to the family ties he sought to rekindle and the future he was destined to build there. This exchange, brief yet significant, serves as a guiding signpost on Jacob's journey, intertwining his personal quest with his family's history.


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Jacob's interaction with the shepherds at the well continues to unfold, revealing a key moment in the narrative. When Jacob inquires about Laban's well-being, the shepherds respond affirmatively and then casually mention that Rachel, Laban's daughter, is approaching with the sheep. This sets the stage for the pivotal meeting between Jacob and Rachel.


Rashi focuses on the linguistic details of the text, particularly the word "בָּאָה" (ba'ah), meaning "is coming" or "came," used to describe Rachel's approach. He notes the nuance in the Hebrew accentuation, which changes the tense of the word from present to past, indicating a shift in the narrative's time frame. This attention to the subtleties of language underscores the importance of this moment: Rachel's arrival marks more than just a physical convergence at the well, it entails a convergence of destinies, as Jacob encounters the woman who will become a central figure in his life and in the historical narrative of the Israelite people.


Through this interaction, the narrative weaves together the threads of personal connection, destiny, and divine providence, as Jacob's journey takes a significant turn with the introduction of Rachel, a key character in his story and in the legacy of the Israelite nation.


*


Observing the shepherds resting with their flocks beside the well, Jacob voices a pragmatic concern in this verse. He notes that the day is still young, implying that it's too early for the shepherds to be considering ending their workday. Jacob's comment, "The day is yet long; it is not the time to take in the livestock," suggests his understanding of pastoral responsibilities and his expectation of diligent work.


Rashi, delving into this verse, interprets Jacob's words as a gentle reprimand. He suggests that Jacob assumed the shepherds were either hired workers who hadn't completed their day's labor, or they were the owners of the flocks acting prematurely. Either way, Jacob's statement implies that there was still ample time left in the day for the sheep to be watered and grazed.


This interaction highlights Jacob's proactive and responsible nature. Rather than addressing the situation with criticism, he provides a reminder of duty, reflecting his leadership qualities and his intimate knowledge of pastoral life. This encounter at the well, which sets the stage for Jacob's meeting with Rachel, begins with Jacob demonstrating a sense of responsibility and an understanding of the pastoral way of life.


*


The shepherds' response to Jacob in this verse reveals the practical challenge they face: the inability to water their flocks independently due to the size of the stone covering the well. They respond, "We cannot [do that], until all the flocks are gathered together, and they will roll the rock off the mouth of the well," indicating that a communal effort is necessary in order to access the water.


Rashi explains that the shepherds are unable to water their sheep because the stone over the well's mouth is too large for a single person or a small group to move. This necessitates waiting for all the flocks and their shepherds to gather before collectively moving the stone. The use of the future tense in their speech, as noted by Rashi, underscores that this action is a routine part of their work, a task they anticipate and prepare for.


This verse thus highlights the communal nature of pastoral work in Jacob's time, where cooperation among shepherds was essential for the survival and well-being of their flocks. The significant size of the stone serves as a practical obstacle that requires teamwork to overcome, reflecting the communal spirit and interdependence prevalent in agrarian societies.


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Rachel's entrance, "while he was still talking with them," suggests a timely intersection of paths. The mention of her role as a shepherdess is noteworthy. In a time when pastoral duties were often the domain of men, Rachel's responsibility for her father's sheep indicates her capability and strength in what might have been considered an unconventional role for a woman.


The arrival of Rachel at this moment is not merely coincidental but appears to be a guided event, part of a larger divine plan unfolding in Jacob's life. Her presence marks the beginning of a new chapter in Jacob's story, one that will deeply influence his future, his family, and the legacy of the twelve tribes of Israel. This encounter by the well, a common biblical motif for significant meetings, sets the stage for the subsequent events that shape the destiny of Jacob and his descendants.


*


The moment Jacob laid eyes on Rachel, something extraordinary happened. Fueled by an inner strength, perhaps stirred by the significance of this encounter, Jacob approached the well and single-handedly rolled away the massive stone covering its mouth. This achievement, which typically required the combined effort of several shepherds, was accomplished by Jacob alone, showcasing his remarkable physical prowess.


The narrative emphasizes the familial connection between Rachel and Jacob, noting that she is the daughter of Laban, Jacob's mother's brother, and that the sheep she tends also belong to Laban. This repetition of Laban's relation to Jacob underscores the significance of family ties in this story and sets the stage for the future events involving Jacob, Rachel, and Laban.


Jacob's action of rolling away the stone and watering Laban's sheep is more than a mere display of physical strength. It also symbolizes his willingness to serve and his capability as a caretaker, traits that will become central to his character as the narrative progresses. This act of service marks the beginning of Jacob's long and complex relationship with Laban and his family, a relationship that will shape much of his future.


*


In a moment laden with profound emotion, Jacob, upon seeing Rachel for the first time, approached and tenderly kissed her, a gesture of connection and recognition. This spontaneous outpouring of emotion was followed by Jacob lifting his voice in tears. The depth of his weeping stemmed from a spiritual foresight. His tears were not merely for the present moment of meeting Rachel, but they were also for the future he perceived – a future where Rachel would not be by his side in their final resting place.


There is a poignant contrast between Jacob's arrival and that of his grandfather's servant, Eliezer, years earlier. Eliezer had come to find a wife for Isaac, Jacob's father, laden with gifts and riches. Jacob, however, arrived with nothing, his hands empty. This was due to a harrowing encounter with Eliphaz, the son of Esau. Pursuing Jacob under Esau's orders to kill him, Eliphaz ultimately could not bring himself to do it, as he had been raised in the compassionate environment of Isaac's home. Instead, he took all of Jacob's material possessions, leaving him with nothing. In the ancient world, where wealth often determined one's social status and prospects, arriving empty-handed was significant. Jacob's destitution symbolized a form of death, a total loss of status and power.


*


When Jacob, feeling a rush of kinship and connection, disclosed to Rachel his familial ties, he brought to light a bond that went beyond mere acquaintances. He told her that he was her father's relative and, importantly, Rebecca's son. This revelation was significant in several ways. Firstly, it established a familial connection, making Jacob part of her extended family, rather than a stranger. Secondly, by mentioning Rebecca, he highlighted a lineage of integrity and virtue, subtly indicating his own character and values.


The depth of this revelation is further explored in Rashi's commentary. Rashi suggests a dual meaning in Jacob's words. On one hand, if Laban, Rachel's father, was inclined towards deceit, Jacob was indicating that he too could match such cunning, as he was from the same family. On the other hand, if Laban was honorable, then Jacob, as Rebecca's son, shared that same honesty. This layered message conveyed Jacob's adaptability and preparedness for whatever character he might find in Laban.


Rachel's reaction to this news was immediate and decisive. With her mother no longer alive, she had no one else but her father with whom to share this significant news. This detail underscores the close-knit nature of families in this era and the importance of such familial connections. Rachel's prompt action to inform her father reveals her sense of responsibility and her recognition of the significance of Jacob’s arrival and the potential implications it had for her family.


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Laban's reaction to Jacob's arrival is tinged with a blend of anticipation and opportunism. Hearing about Jacob, Laban likely expected a repeat of the prosperity that Eliezer, Abraham's servant, had brought years earlier. Eliezer had arrived with ten camels laden with goods, a symbol of tremendous wealth and good fortune. Laban, perhaps expecting similar riches, hurried to meet Jacob.


However, Laban's enthusiasm dampened upon realizing that Jacob had arrived empty-handed. His embrace, initially thought to be a gesture of familial affection, takes on a different hue. Rashi suggests that Laban's embrace was a subtle investigation, a search for hidden wealth that Jacob might be carrying. Finding nothing in Jacob's hands, Laban might have speculated that wealth was concealed in his clothing.


Similarly, Laban's kiss, which could be interpreted as an expression of warm welcome, is recontextualized by Rashi as another probing gesture. Laban might have thought that Jacob was carrying something valuable such as pearls in his mouth.


This depiction of Laban's actions paints a picture of a man driven by material interests, seeking personal benefit from his interactions. His initial enthusiasm was not by any means driven by familial love but was significantly influenced by the prospect of material gain.


In contrast, Jacob's situation was starkly different. He had to leave his home due to the threats from his brother Esau and arrived without material possessions, having been robbed of his belongings on his journey. His disclosure to Laban was a revelation of his vulnerable state, highlighting the contrasts between the expectations of Laban and the reality of Jacob's circumstances.


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Laban's response to Jacob upon learning of their familial connection is layered with practical considerations. His words, "Indeed, you are my bone and my flesh," affirm their kinship, a declaration that should ideally be filled with warmth and welcome. However, Rashi's commentary sheds light on a different aspect of this interaction.


Laban acknowledges their blood relationship, but rather than familial affection, his actions are guided by pragmatism. He seems to think, "You are kin, so I will shelter you, but only for a limited time, and not out of generosity." This attitude is starkly different from what one might expect in a reunion of long-separated relatives.


Laban's decision to host Jacob for a month is not entirely altruistic. Rashi reveals that during this time, Jacob was not simply a guest but contributed to the household by tending Laban's sheep. This arrangement indicates that Laban's hospitality was conditional and transactional, reflecting his calculative nature. He saw an opportunity to benefit from Jacob's stay, turning a family reunion into a utilitarian exchange.


This episode paints a picture of a relationship where kinship is acknowledged but doesn't necessarily translate into unconditional support or generosity. Laban's approach contrasts sharply with Jacob's vulnerability and need at this juncture of his journey.


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In this verse, as Laban addresses Jacob, he seems to acknowledge their familial bond and simultaneously addresses a matter of fairness and practicality. Laban's statement, "Because you are my kinsman, should you work for me gratis?" can be understood as an expression of ethical consideration. He implies that it would be inappropriate to exploit their family relationship by expecting Jacob to work without compensation simply because they are relatives.


Rashi clarifies that the word "הֲכִֽי" (hachi) is an interrogative term, emphasizing Laban's inquiry about the fairness of Jacob working for free. He interprets Laban's offer as an acknowledgment of their family ties and a gesture of fairness, ensuring that Jacob's work is valued and compensated.


Overall, this verse reflects a blend of kinship acknowledgment and a move towards a formal, equitable working relationship. Laban's approach may seem pragmatic, possibly driven by a desire to formalize their arrangement in a way that benefits both parties, respecting the familial connection while also ensuring fairness in their dealings.


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In this verse, we are introduced to Laban's family structure, particularly his two daughters, Leah and Rachel. The verse succinctly identifies them, indicating their positions in the family hierarchy. Leah is named as the older daughter, while Rachel is identified as the younger.


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In this verse, the Torah describes the contrasting physical appearances of Leah and Rachel. Leah is described as having "tender eyes," while Rachel is noted for her beautiful features and complexion.


Rashi explains that Leah's eyes were tender from weeping. She wept because people commonly assumed that she would be paired with Esau, the older of Isaac's twin sons, as she was Laban's older daughter. This arrangement was expected as it was customary for the older daughter to marry the older son. Leah's distress and continuous weeping over this fate affected the appearance of her eyes.


Regarding Rachel, Rashi clarifies that the term "תֹּאַר" (toar), translated as "features," refers to the form or outline of her face, signifying her attractive facial features. The word "מַרְאֶה" (mareh), translated as "complexion," indicates the radiance or glow of her countenance, suggesting a beautiful and vibrant appearance. These descriptions serve to highlight the distinct physical attributes of Leah and Rachel, setting the stage for the complex relationships and events that will unfold involving these two sisters in the narrative.

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