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Rolling the Stone  off the Well

11/09/2021 10:12:15 PM



לטייל עם התנ"ך: מהי האבן שגלל יעקב מהבאר? - סרוגים

I can almost hear them.

"Did you see what that skinny Jewish kid just did?"

"He rolled that huge boulder off the well and drew water for all of our flocks!  I can't believe it!"

In between the Genesis stories of covenants and acts of kindness and mercy, there are concealed other narratives. 

Abraham, gentle, pacifistic patriarch, goes after the invading army that has kidnapped his nephew.  In a surprise attack by night, he and his small band drive the aggressors all the way to Damascus and rescue nephew Lot and the captives taken from the Cities of the Plains.  When the local tribal leaders try to honor him, he refuses all reward and accolade and returns to Sarah and their modest tents in Be'er Sheva.

Jacob reveals the strength hidden within him when he meets the love of his life, Rachel, at the well, sweeping away the tribal obstacles to their union.  Two of Jacob's sons lay waste to the City of Shchem where their sister, Dinah, has been abducted and abused. 

And finally, a close reading of the story of Joseph's brothers in Egypt reveals not a terrified band of men afraid of the Prince of Egypt, but a canny and powerful family offering peace and resolution and making it clear that they are not to be trifled with.  The midrash expands on this concealed strength by showing Judah flattening squads of Egyptian guards with a single battle cry.

But that's not how we learned it in Hebrew school!  Who says that we Jews were mild, peaceful, unwilling to put the smackdown on our enemies?  

The answer is we, ourselves.  The Torah presents G-d's greatest power not as being able to level mountains, but to establish them; not in destroying, but in creating.  Not in subjugation, but in empowerment.  All things exist because G-d has given them the supreme power to be themselves.  That's power.

So power, in Jewish terms, is always concealed within, effective because it is kept contained and controlled, channeled, like drip irrigation (the watering technique that Israel created to make the desert bloom), so that every drop of moisture brings maximum benefit, maximum life. 

So power, in Torah terms, is something that must be fostered: power of spirit, power of mind, even physical power.  But in the same way that jet fuel, if it is spilled out, can cause a conflagration and disaster, rather than lifting an aircraft into the sky, power poured out wantonly is always a force of destruction.

Jacob is so powerful that he can take on an angel, fighting all night without pause.  Yet the one time in his life when Jacob reveals his power before others, it is to bring the water of blessing.  So should it be for us all: as we read during the Chanukah Haftarah: "not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit," says the Lord of Hosts.

Shabbat Shalom



Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784