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Parashat Vayeitzeih

November 19, 2015

by Rabbi Michael Pitkowsky

In this week’s parashah we read about the first meeting between Jacob and Rachel.

“Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban.” (Genesis 29:10)

On this verse Rashi wrote

“‘Jacob went up and rolled’: As one who removes the stopper from a bottle, to let you know that he possessed great strength (Gen. Rabbah 70:12).”

It seems that according to Rashi, the “great strength” that Jacob possessed was purely physical. Because of this extraordinary strength he was able to roll the stone that was blocking the well’s mouth. Rabbi Nechemia Ra’anan has shown that the great 20th century teacher of musar, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, had a slightly different understanding of Jacob’s strength. For Rabbi Shmuelevitz Jacob’s strength was not just of the physical type.

“The great strength about which Rashi wrote, his intention was not physical strength, that [Jacob] was a physically very strong person.” (Sihot Musar, Ma’amar 58)

If his strength was not physical, what type of strength was it? Rabbi Shmuelevitz continued:

“We have no choice [but to understand] that Jacob’s act was not on account of a change in nature at all, rather, such is the spiritual nature that is in a person’s soul, that he is strong enough to roll even the largest rock if he devotes his heart and soul on behalf of another person…”

Rabbi Ra’anan described the meaning of devoting one’s heart to something (yihud ha-lev) in the following manner:

“When a person devotes his heart and concentrates all of his strength and will on behalf of performing hesed (kindness) for another person, unique strengths are revealed within him that during the normal course of life are not present.”

Rabbi Shmuelevitz believed that this strength was found within everyone.

“This strength is found within each and every person, since during a fire or other type of danger a person is able to do things that usually require a few people to do them. The necessity and feeling of need gives a person the great strength above and beyond his usual stregnth.” (Ma’amar 32)

People are often overwhelmed by the challenges that they face. Sometimes these challenges are of a size or severity that cause our coping mechanisms to go into overload. We simply cannot handle the challenges that we are facing. They are too big, too many, just too much.

On the other hand, we are also faced by the challenges of every day life. Challenges that seem insignificant when compared with those that threaten our health or way of life, but it is these challenges that determine how we function and cope most of the days of our life.

I suggest that we forget for the moment about the major challenges and instead focus on the hurdles that we have to overcome every day. Within all of us is the strength to devote one’s heart to rolling the stone that is blocking our way, but we must also remember the words of Rabbi Shmuelevitz, “such is the spiritual nature that is in a person’s soul, that he is strong enough to roll even the largest rock if he devotes his heart and soul on behalf of another person.” Our greatest strengths are revealed when we are performing acts of kindness on behalf of other people. In order to realize all of our human potential, our focus must be directed towards the other, towards the person for whom a rock is blocking their way.

Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Michael Pitkowsky is the AJR Rabbinics Curriculum Coordinator.