Parashat VaYetze opens with Ya’akov’s fleeing to Charan. The recounting of his flight includes two incidents that he experiences while on his way. The first is the revelation he experiences at Bet El, and the second is the story of his meeting Rachel at the well. It is quite obvious that the first event holds major significance in Ya’akov’s life, helping to define the new adult Ya’akov as he departs his parents’ home, embarking on his independent journey of life. However, when we examine the story of the well it seems that it may in fact be a “superfluous” account of an incident that is of no importance.
The account opens with a lengthy – almost tedious – description of the routine of the local shepherds. They would not remove the heavy stone from the mouth of the well alone, but would rather gather together and in unison reveal the mouth of the well. Ya’akov’s single-handed act of removing the rock is specifically emphasized in contradistinction to this routine practice. It is interesting to note that the Torah does not speak of the shepherds, but rather of their “flocks” – thereby obscuring the individual identities of the shepherds while highlighting the persona of Rachel who is later to arrive at the well.
Another peculiar aspect of this incident is the dialogue that ensues between Ya’akov and the shepherds. Ya’akov attempts to converse with them, yet they answer him quite tersely, implying that they would rather no contact with him. Once again, this contrasts the familiarity and warmth, which we witness between Ya’akov and Rachel when she comes to the well: “And it was as Ya’akov saw Rachel… and Ya’akov stepped forward, and rolled the rock from the top of the well, and he gave water to the sheep of his uncle, Lavan. Ya’akov kissed Rachel and raised his voice and wept” (Bereshit 29:10, 11).
How are we to understand this parashah? We may be aided in understanding this parashah by reviewing the prior events at Bet El. In both stories we see that Ya’akov relates to the other prime protagonist through a third medium – in our incident it is the well which serves as the medium and catalyst for his meeting and relationship with Rachel; in Bet El he envisages angels descending and ascending a ladder to the heavens, and it is through them that he is to connect with the Divine. These two incidents stand in sharp contrast to each other. At Bet El Ya’akov receives God’s revelation while in a slumber, passively becoming a receptacle for the Divine revelation while at the well it is the sensitive Ya’akov who initiates and acts. At Bet El Ya’akov stands before his G-d, whereas at the well he meets the woman who is to become his wife.
These two events complement each other and fuse together in beautiful harmony. Through both events the Torah illustrates – and illuminates – Ya’akov’s true nature. The significance of the duality in these two events is that in the service of G-d, it is not sufficient to merely turn to the Heavens and anticipate revelation; rather it is through the association with earthy humans that one is able to realize the Divine.