Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayetze
To dedicate this lesson

What is so wonderous about lifting the stone?


Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon

What is so wonderous about lifting the stone?

The beginning of Parshat Vayeitzei describes Jacob lifting the stone from atop the well (Genesis 29):

(1) Jacob lifted his feet and went toward the land of the easterners.

(2) He looked, and behold – a well in the field! And behold! Three flocks of sheep lay there beside it, for from that well they would water the flocks, and the stone over the mouth of the well was large.

(3) When all the flocks would be assembled there they would roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep; then they would put back the stone over the mouth of the well, in its place…

(7) He said, "Look, the day is still long; it is not yet time to bring the livestock in; water the flock and go on grazing."

(8) But they said, "We will be unable to, until all the flocks will have been gathered and they will roll the stone off the mouth of the well; we will then water the flock."

(9) While he was still speaking with them, Rachel had arrived with her father’s flock, for she was a shepherdess.

(10) And it was, when Jacob saw Rachel, daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the flock of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob came forward and rolled the stone off the mouth of the well and watered the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother.

Usually, people are surprised that Jacob succeeded in lifting the stone, which the shepherds did not succeed in lifting. However, this is not a wonder in our eyes. Jacob is a holy man, and thanks to G-d’s help, can perform great things.

However, our Sages put a special emphasis on this wonder and said that Jacob lifted the stone like someone lifts the cover off a bottle (Rashi). In other words, not only was it easy, but he did not roll the stone but lifted it up. What is our Sages’ emphasis on Jacob’s strength? Why is this so important for us?
However, the greatest wonder is not how Jacob succeeded in lifting the stone. The tremendous difficulty is – how did Jacob even try to lift the stone?

We know Jacob from Parshat Toldot. Jacob is completely passive. His mother gives him instructions and tells him what to say to his father, how to dress. His mother prepares the food for him, whereas Jacob was "a wholesome man, abiding in tents". Jacob does not feel danger from his brother, and it is his mother who says to him "Behold, your brother Esau is consoling himself regarding how he is going to kill you". She says, and also gives instructions what to do: "So now, my son, heed my voice and arise; flee to my brother Laban, to Haran".

In the end Jacob also goes to Haran by the command of his father "Arise, go to Paddan-aram… and Jacob obeyed his father and mother and went to Paddan-aram". Jacob is entirely passive, entirely wholesome. Suddenly, in Parshat Vayeitzei a different Jacob is revealed.

Jacob sees the shepherds by the well. They are probably strong and healthy men. They tell him that they do not succeed in moving the stone since all the shepherds have not yet come. Suddenly, we see a different Jacob. The wholesome and passive Jacob goes and tries to move the stone by himself! The wonder is not that he succeeded, but that he tried! This act really does not match the Jacob of Parshat Toldot!

What happened to Jacob? From where did he suddenly get the strength? I heard from my master and teacher Rav Lichtenstein Z"tzl that Jacob did indeed change between Parshat Toldot and the story of the stone. In the middle the dream appears. This is the first time that G-d reveals Himself to Jacob, promises His protection, promises him that he will have descendents, who will inherit the land.

Until now Jacob was a private man, without any special vision, without any special challenge. Suddenly, after the revelation, Jacob receives a vision, receives a mission. Jacob, who receives a mission, is now imbued with new vigor. He is no longer the passive Jacob, now he is mighty Jacob.

And indeed, this is hinted to in the verse immediately after the dream:
Jacob lifted his feet and went toward the land of the easterners.

In the previous times in which Jacob went it says "and Jacob went". Here it says Jacob lifted his feet. Our Sages explain (and Rashi ibid.): the heart carries the feet. As a result of the vision of the heart, Jacob received new vigor, Jacob received new might.

At times, man feels weak, without might. Is he able to complete the Mishna? Can he seriously be involved with kindness?

Man receives strengths according to his missions! Man needs to view his missions not according to his current capabilities, but rather he needs to look higher. Man needs to adopt missions that are "slightly" beyond his prevalent capabilities: Daf Yomi. G-d willing when man works with the feeling of a mission, he also receives new strengths to fulfill these missions.
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