Remember that old saying, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”? Perhaps if your goal is gashmius (materialism) that is true, but in this week’s parsha, the Torah presents the first significant gift of a rock from a guy to a gal … and it’s ALL ruchnius (spiritual). It’s also a really big rock!
When Yaakov arrives at Haran, he finds the local shepherds and their flocks relaxing near the well. When he asks why they are not shepherding the sheep, it is explained to him that all of the shepherds gather together so that they can unite their strength and move the large rock that covers the well. No sooner have they explained this, then Rochel appears shepherding her father’s sheep. “And when Yaakov saw Rochel, the daughter of Lavan, his mother’s brother, and the flocks of Lavan, his mother’s brother, Yaakov went up and rolled the stone off the mouth of the well, and watered the flocks of Lavan, his mother’s brother. Then Yaakov kissed Rochel, and he lifted his voice and wept” (Bereishis 29:10 – 11).
A romance columnist might say he rolled the rock to impress the girl with his superior strength. But the Torah certainly isn’t wasting space with basic bravado. According to Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, the repetition of “his mother’s brother” is an indicator that Rochel looked a great deal like her aunt. He writes: “For in everything that Yaakov did here, he was moved by the thoughts of his mother who appeared living before him in the person of her nearest relative.” More than that, perhaps seeing her approach with Lavan’s sheep had a specific meaning for Yaakov. Here he was, a stranger in Haran, sent by his mother, and his cousin arrives looking like a vision of Rivka. Seeing the similarity indicates to him what he must do to demonstrate who he is. After all, as he tells her later on, he has no possessions, nothing as proof of his identity. Therefore, just as his mother did for Eliezer, Yaakov must hurry to bring water for Rochel and for her animals. When the rock moves with such tremendous ease, he knows that this is a sign from Hashem.
It is interesting that Rabbi Moshe Alshich comments on pasuk 29:10’s vayigal et ha’even (and he rolled away the rock) that “Yaakov did not even have to roll the rock away, all he had to do was reveal the mouth of the well. The word vayigal is derived from gimmel lamed hey גלה, to reveal, not from gimmel lamed lamed גלל, to roll.” So what was revealed by moving a rock?
The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of rocks in parshas VayetzeI. In Bereishis 28, Yaakov arrives and arranges his camp with the stones of the place and goes to sleep. Hashem then brings him his famous dream of malachim on a ladder to shamayim (heaven). When he wakes up, he takes the rock upon which his head has rested, and he sets up a matzeva, a libation stone – for lack of a better English translation.
Yaakov has just been promised a great spiritual future. One might say that he has had confirmation that the brachos he received from Yitzchak had Hashem’s full approval. Now he needs a life partner to make that future happen. He wasn’t going to Heron just to escape from Esau; he was going to Heron to find his spiritual partner. When he was able to remove the rock, he knew that Rochel, too, was important for the future he was building.
Tradition informs us that the rock upon which Yaakov rested his head was no ordinary rock. Rather, as the commentator Chizkuni writes:
According to the sages in Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 35, this stone was the one known in later generations as the even shetiyah symbolising the navel of the globe- a mystical stone at the site where the Holy Ark had stood in the Holy of Holies during the First Temple. This stone, if removed, would expose a hole going down to the center of the earth. It is supposed to have served G-d as the first piece of solid material of what would be the globe on which we live (translation from Sefaria).
It’s a hard concept to understand – a mystical rock that manifests in different ways throughout the ages, a rock so important to creation that was also a pillow for Yaakov’s head. Like many Midrashim, this should be looked at for the lesson rather than dwelling on the literal meaning. What Yaakov experienced on his way to Haran was a taste of pure spirituality, and that is what is important here.
There is no indication anywhere in Tradition that these two rocks, the one he set as a matzeva and the one he removed from the well, have any connection to each other. On the other hand, there is often a symbolic connection between two sections that are next to each other in the Torah. Between leaving the matzeva and arriving at the well covered by the rock, there is only one pasuk: “And Yaakov lifted up his feet and he went to Haran” (29:1). It’s an odd pasuk. The Torah often says that someone lifted up their eyes, but lifting up one’s feet is not quite so common; and why couldn’t it just say the second half of the pasuk, that Yaakov went to Haran? Rashi says that this pasuk indicates that he was so inspired that “his heart lifted his feet” (citing Bereishis Rabbah). But lifting up one’s feet indicates active effort. The Abarbanel suggests that Yaakov had trouble leaving this place filled with kedusha, especially to head for a place like Haran.
Yaakov knew enough of his uncle, from his mother’s memories and the continued communications between the families, to understand that he was heading toward a place where wealth and possessions, materialism, were valued over spiritual growth. When he got to the well and saw the loitering shepherds, he must have worried further about this new environment. Then he saw the rock, the rock covering the well … the rock that these men mired in the physical could not move. But to Yaakov, the physical world was now secondary, and seeing a large rock reminded him of all that he had experienced. Yaakov rolled that rock from the well and revealed to Rochel that her future was with him, a future of spiritual wealth. And she let him water her sheep, thus accepting his kindness. And so he kissed her and he cried, because he knew he had found his soulmate.