Parshas Vayeitzei: The Stone On The Well

There is an interesting story in this week’s parsha. We are told of a group of shepherds who all shared a communal well of water. On top of it they placed a large stone. No single shepherd amongst them could move this rock; it was too heavy for any one person to lift. And then along comes Yaakov who effortlessly slides the rock right off of the well.

Now there are, as usual, quite a few ways we can read this story. For one, perhaps Yaakov was actually just a really strong guy. But if that is indeed the whole story, why include it in the Torah? What’s the point?

I’d like to take another route of interpretation that hovers between pshat and drash enough that it could even be the simplest meaning of the story. Either way, I think it teaches a valuable lesson.

As is so often the case, we must fill in the gaps between the posukim to get the full picture. The Torah doesn’t always tell us everything, but when that is the case, we can usually fill in the gaps based on the most likely possibilities.

Think about what these shepherds did; they were actually quite clever. They were all sharing this well of water together, and in order to ensure that no one person would take more than his share, they placed a rock on top of it that required at least two of them to move. This way, no one is left by the well alone, and no one would even be tempted to take more than his share. In order for any one of them to take anything, there had to be at least one other person there to oversee what was happening. And should there ever be any problems, there would always be at least one other witness. Quite clever.

Now, let’s say that one individual person could lift a rock of 100 pounds, but no more. In order for the shepherds’ system to work, the rock need not have been 200 pounds. Just a little bit more than the 100 pounds would suffice. Say the rock weighed 110, or 115. That would be enough so that one person would be unable to move the rock, as it would be outside of his ability — by just a bit, but outside nonetheless.

But still, Yaakov, just one man, was able to move this rock? If none of the shepherds were able to move the rock, how was Yaakov able to?

As we said above, it’s possible that Yaakov was just a really strong guy. But think about it this way: Say one of these shepherds found himself alone by the well one day. There was no one in sight in any direction. He moves closer to the well and, wanting a bit more than his ration of water that day, nudges the rock. It doesn’t budge. Of course it doesn’t budge. It’s heavier than any one person could lift. But he would really like some water. So he pushes pretty hard on the rock, and pushes and pushes, but of course, it still does not move. And that’s it. He can’t move the rock, he forgets about the water, and goes on with the rest of his day.

But you see, deep down, that shepherd did not really want the rock to move at all. Because if he was able to move the rock, then that would mean that all the other shepherds were capable of the same thing. And that would mean that all this time it was entirely possible that there system was not, in fact, working, and that everyone was being stolen from. And that is the key. When that single shepherd pushes on the rock, while his arms want the rock to move, his heart and mind do not. Because if that rock budges, and he gets to the water, the system is broken. So of course that rock — that really only weighs a little bit outside of what he is capable of moving — won’t budge! He doesn’t really want to move it because of what it would mean for his system. He doesn’t (want to) believe that it’s possible!

But then, along comes Yaakov, who really could not care much at all about their little system, and who — with all his heart and mind at that moment simply wanted to move this rock — pushes and pushes with all his strength, and slides the rock right off the well. This was not some super-human feat. It was simply a display of what is possible when you really believe and truly want something, versus how much you are incapable of when you do not really want something to work.

Be it impressing a girl (as in Yaakov’s case, most likely) or all the way up to lifting a car off a trapped friend or family member, this idea has been proven time and time again. It’s not just some feel-good message here. The power of and will, desire, and adrenaline are real, tangible things. And it’s very possible that this is exactly what is going on in the story of the rock on the well.

It is a story about mindset. If deep down you expect to fail — if in reality you actually want to fail — then, of course, you will fail. If you do not truly care to succeed, then you will not. But if you put your mind to something, and you want it with all your heart and soul, then it is quite possible to accomplish even things that are just a bit beyond your reach.

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