Parshat Vayetzei — Jacob’s Well
Last week we read one of the most thrilling family dramas in the Bible: after Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, Jacob and Rebecca deceive Isaac in order to get the blessing from him; ultimately resulting in Jacob fleeing to Haran so Esau won’t kill him.
In Beit-El, which according to Jewish tradition is Jerusalem, God promises Jacob the land of Canaan and that all the families of the earth will be blessed in him (Genesis 28:12). When Jacob arrives to Haran he has to work hard for his uncle Laban, to receive the p, who deceives him: “…and you changed my wages ten times” (Genesis 31:41). It happened that the deceiver Jacob was punished by a greater deceiver- Laban. However, the blessing of Isaac and the blessing of God are upon him and he is blessed with a large family and wealth.
Although the affair takes place outside the land of Canaan, in Haran, there is a site in Israel that connects to the text quite well: the city of Shekhem – Nablus. This is the first city where Jacob lived after a long exile of more than twenty years. This is also the first city where Abraham lived when he reached the land of Canaan (Genesis 12: 6). It is no coincidence. Few ancient roads connected Egypt to Mesopotamia through the land of Canaan – one passed north of the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum and one in Nablus towards the Jordan river and Jabok passage. Shekhem is situated in a beautiful and fertile valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, in a region rich of springs and crossroads: from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gilead and from Jerusalem to the Galilee, an ancient and powerful city that is described in texts from the days of the Pharaohs 4000 years ago. Nablus, which is the Arabic pronunciation of the Roman name Flavius Neapolis, was reestablished by Emperor Vespasian who wished to erase the memory of the Jews after the Great Revolt against the Romans.
It is said in this weeks bible portion that Jacob’s love for Rachel, Laban’s daughter, was love at first sight; a love that gave him the strength to move the heavy stones from the well and the strength to endure twenty years of labor under Laban. In the city of Nablus there is a well and a church called the Well of Jacob. That’s the place where Jesus met the Samaritan woman. In Jesus’s time Jews who lived in the Galilee could not go south through Samaria and Nablus to Jerusalem. The road was dangerous to them because the Jews and the Samaritans had been enemies for centuries earlier. The Jews of the Galilee had to walk through Gilead or through the Jordan Valley- double the distance. Therefore the Samaritan woman is surprised to see a Jew in Nablus, and even more surprised that a Jew asks her to draw water for him:
“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9)
Jesus responds confidently:
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10-14)
The entire conversation between them is fascinating:
You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks… Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. (John 4:22-23, 36)
In the days of his exile, Jacob worked hard for Laban in great sadness but also with great faith, and here Jesus presents himself as a fountain of living water for all, to the days when there will be no more exile, sadness and hard work, the reaper – Man, will be happy with the sower – God, whether he is from Jacob’s sons or not. The promise to Jacob is fulfilled, and not only he and his family are blessed – but all the families of the earth.
Itamar Ben David is a professional tour guide and educator. He is one of the most popular Travelujah guides providing valuable biblical, historical and modern day insight on the land of Israel to Jewish and Christian groups and exclusive private tours. He has guided famous media personalities such as Larry King, congressmen and other VIP clients. He and his wife live in Jerusalem.