This Parsha this week is Parshas Vayaitzai. In the Parsha the Torah tells us of the travels of Jacob as he ran from his brother Esau. Jacob was sent by his parents, Isaac and Rebecca, to find a wife from the family of Rebecca’s brother Laban. When Jacob reached Charan, the city of his destination, he had to find his Uncle Laban. He chanced upon a group of shepherds who were gathering their sheep around a well to give them water, although it was still in middle of the day. “And he said to them, “My brothers, from where are you”? And they said “we are from Charan”… And he said to them, “the day is still long, it is not yet time to gather in the livestock, give the sheep to drink and let them graze…” (Genesis 29:4 - 8).
Picture this strange encounter. Jacob is meeting these people for the first time in his life, and in their lives. They are total strangers to him. We have a hard enough time giving rebuke to people that we know and feel close to. How often does a word of rebuke get misunderstood, misconstrued, or leave someone upset? Yet here, Jacob goes ahead and tells these total strangers who he in all likelihood may encounter only once in his life rebuke!? How could he do that? Why don’t they just tell him “mind your own business”, as we like to say in America, instead of explaining to him what they did? What made him have the conviction to speak up and point out something that he felt was wrong? What made them accept his words enough to even think about them and take the time to respond?
The answer, explains the Ponovezer Rav, is in the first words of Jacobs that preceded his entire conversation with them. And he said to them, “my brothers … Were they his brothers? What did Jacob mean by calling them “Brothers”? Jacob showed them that all his remarks to them were based on one thing only: feelings of care and concern. We are not talking about shallow comments that reflect no deeper or inner meaning: We are talking about sincere honest care and concern. When the shepherds heard this comment, and felt its sincerity, they responded in kind. Instead of feeling that they were being attacked or talked down to, they felt that they were truly conversing with someone who cared about them. This led to an honest conversation.
This lesson is a most important and applicable one for all people. How often is it that we wish to give someone reproof, to correct someone and criticize their actions? The lesson Jacob taught us is that we first must be overflowing with feelings of real love and warmth for the person who we want to help. Only if we are ready to really feel this closeness and care, can we proceed to try to help them and correct them.