Vayaytsay: Roll Away the Stone by David Hartley Mark

“[Jacob] looked, and there was a well in the field [of Haran], with three flocks of sheep lying down by it, for from that well the flocks were watered. But the stone was large on the mouth of the well. When all the flocks were gathered there, [the shepherds] would roll away the stone from off the mouth of the well….Jacob went up and rolled the stone from off the mouth of the well….Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept with emotion.” –Gen. 29:2-3, 10-11 (my translation).

Based on the Sefat Emet, I offer a Kabbalistic interpretation of the above verse: we spend our lives seeking the point of Godliness that exists within all earthly things, and within all humanity. Every thing that exists requires this Godly spark of light; it cannot sustain itself without it. Even a field choked with weeds, or an undeveloped human mind, contain this light. Our subconscious minds are remarkable creations: they understand this and seek the light intuitively, even if our active minds do not. There are three levels of knowledge: chochma, bina, and daat—wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, which are symbolized by the three flocks of sheep.

What does the Torah mean by saying, “The stone was large on the mouth of the well”? When we favor our bodies, our physical selves, with pleasure and enjoyment, we are not necessarily using our intellects, but rather satisfying our carnal passions. The stone represents these carnalities and passions, which block our spirits from enjoying God’s Holy Light.

How can we free our spirits, our inherent holiness? We must gather together both our intellectual and physical strength, as did Jacob our Father, to “roll away the stone” and recognize that all Creation originates from, and will ultimately return to, God. This is the God we aim for, via Torah study, the performance of mitzvote/commandments, and good deeds. God dwells within all Creation, and we release that Godliness when we use Creation, not to inflict pain upon one another, but to lift up one another’s lives.

Further: what does the Torah mean by stating, “they were gathered”? It means that all Israel, indeed all humanity, should align. We must negate our carnality, our greed, hatred and suspicion of one another, our racism and ignorance, and recognize that we are all made in the Image of God. If we can join together as One, we will be able to “roll away the stone” that hides our humanity and prevents our coming together as one Human Community.

The stone is large, and the task is great. How will God show us the holiness shining forth from the Well of Salvation? The verb “Va-yigal (vs. 10) means not “he rolled,” but rather, “he revealed”—every human being, if they reveal what is good within themselves, can become a tsadik, a righteous person. The choice is ours.


Arthur Green, Ed. & Trans. The Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger. Phila., PA: JPS, 1998.

Rabbi Dr. Green translates Rav Yehudah Leib’s commentaries on the Parshat Ha-Shavua, the Weekly Torah Portion, and is careful not to describe him as a Chasidic mystic. I note, however, that the above does have mystical antecedents. I have extended R’ Yehudah Leib’s metaphor to all of humanity. We are all in need of holiness.

David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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