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    The well & the stone – Vayyetzei

    Jacob had to leave home.

    His first night saw him far from any habitation. He lay down to rest with a stone under his head as a pillow.

    He had a dream about a ladder joining earth to heaven, with angels of God ascending and descending.

    Morning came, and he resumed his journey to “the land of the children of the east”. There he saw a well with a large stone covering its mouth.

    When the shepherds wanted water for their flocks they removed the stone, and then they replaced it when they were finished.

    Why the stone?

    The obvious answer is that it protected the water from the sand that was blown about by the wind. The view of Abravanel is that it was to stop unauthorised people from taking the water.

    It was also a means of protecting animals from falling to their death: Exodus 21:33 imposes liability upon a person who opens or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an animal falls in and dies.

    It is a basic principle of the Torah that you must not and create a hazard by your actions.

    This is of course illustrated by the famous rabbinic story about the man in the boat who was boring a hole under his seat; when the others in the boat tried to stop him, they were told, “But it’s only under my seat that I’m making a hole!”

    This teaching has implications on a number of levels. As well as warning you against digging holes or creating obstructions of a physical kind, it also acts as a warning against deliberately misleading other people, exploiting their ignorance or manipulating their minds.

    It also warns against leaving deficiencies in the education system, especially in relation to civic duty and ethical principle.

    Once upon a time children learned at home how to be decent human beings; the Yiddish phrase was machen menschen fon kinder. But today parents are often unsure or confused themselves about what is right and wrong, and children do not get a clear message or example.

    The school and the system have to take up the slack, otherwise they are leaving holes for children to fall into.

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