Who is Strong? He Who Subdues His Evil Inclination
When Jacob “rolled the stone from the mouth of the well” (Gen 29:10), our Sages tell us that he did it as easily as “someone who uncorks a bottle” (Bereshith Rabba 70:12), which shows us just how strong Jacob was.
Some questions may be asked here:
Q1. It is written, “When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother, Jacob came near and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well.” Why didn’t he do this sooner? Why only when Rachel came with the flock?
Q2. If Jacob was in fact so strong, why didn’t he fight when Eliphaz, acting on his father Esau’s orders (Sefer Hayashar, Vayeitzei), chased him in order to kill him?
There are several possible answers to this second question:
A1. If Jacob had killed Eliphaz, Esau’s hate would have been further fueled, and he would never have forgiven him for this crime.
A2. We know that Eliphaz had grown up with the Patriarch Isaac and was raised in the way of Torah (Sefer Hayashar, ibid.). The Sages add that Eliphaz, Esau’s son, was a virtuous man, and not only that, but he possessed Divine inspiration (Devarim Rabba 2:13). If he were to have killed him, Jacob would have inflicted great pain on Isaac, which is why he didn’t do so.
A3. The fact is, Jacob wanted to see if Eliphaz would be satisfied in only taking his possessions, while leaving him alive. And this is precisely what happened. If, however, Eliphaz would not have been content in only taking his possessions, it is highly probable that Jacob would have fought him.
A4. Actually, Jacob could have fought, but G-d wanted to hand his possessions over to Eliphaz. This is clear by the fact that, despite the blessings that Jacob received from his father and the promises made to him by G-d, Eliphaz nevertheless pursued him with intention to kill. This occurred because G-d didn’t want Jacob to become wealthy through his father’s inheritance, but rather from what G-d would give him.
A5. Finally, Jacob wanted to reduce the severity of the decrees that would be levied against his descendants over the course of the generations, since “the deeds of the fathers are a sign for the children” (Sotah 34a). In the case where the descendants of Esau would want to harm the Children of Israel, they would only be able to harm their possessions, not they themselves. They would only be able to take their goods, not extinguish their lives.
This is also the answer to the first question. Jacob didn’t demonstrate such great strength until Rachel approached with her flock because he wanted her to see him and tell Laban her father just how strong he was, and thus discourage him from warring against him. On the contrary, it was preferable to have him keep the flock, which he would watch over day and night.
There is a lesson to be learned here concerning Jacob’s strength. When a man is weak and doesn’t have the courage to fight the evil inclination that burns inside him, he thereby falls into its trap. Just as Jacob removed the rock from the mouth of the well, everyone can learn from him how to strengthen himself in the study of Torah (Torat Hacohanim Vayikra 26:3) and to evade the evil inclination, which is called a “rock” (Sukkah 52a). Jacob possessed the strength that the Torah provides, a strength that, as our Sages say, is compared to a well of living waters: “The Torah is called ‘life’. It is an elixir of life for all parts of the body.” The Sages add: “If you encounter this scoundrel, drag him along to the house of study; if he is of rock, he will be shattered; if he is of iron, he will be melted, as it is said, ‘Behold, My word is like fire – the word of the L-RD – and like a hammer that shatters a rock’ [Jer 23:29]” (Sukkah 52b). Such is the power of the Torah.