Three flocks of sheep were waiting to drink, but their shepherds were not strong enough to lift off the stone to get to the water. Jacob, however, despite his weariness, lifted the stone and the flocks were able to slake their thirst.
The Ramban sees in this episode a suggestion of the future. Jacob is the Jewish people, the Torah is the water in the well, and the flocks are the nations of the world, yearning for spiritual nourishment.
One of the great paradoxes of history is the passion with which so many have resented Jews and Judaism whilst constantly drinking from the waters of the Jewish ethical tradition, honouring the Jewish Bible, and living a richer, healthier, more comfortable life because of the Jewish contribution to civilisation.
Certain of the adherents of a daughter religion believe they have superseded Judaism and that the mother faith should now self-destruct through assimilation or apostasy, or both.
Jews and Judaism, however, show no intention of disappearing from the stage of history, and though we do unfortunately lose Jews, very few move into another religion.
Our problem is that some Jews honour the past but miss the continuing grandeur of their Jewish heritage.
Perhaps they see Jewish life as a multiplicity of small daily acts – cuisine in the kitchen, mezuzot on the doors, candlesticks on the table, sermons in the synagogue, feasts, fasts and foibles.
They miss the large ideas symbolised and cemented by the daily round of observances. They miss the broad principles that underlie and overarch the Jewish pattern of living.
Many writers have delineated the large ideas and broad principles. An example is Steven Katz, who, in an essay entitled “Why Should Judaism Survive?” (1970) nominates three ideological headlines – history, holiness and messianism.
History means time; time is the medium with which man works, and our task is to use time wisely to build a destiny.
Holiness means not monasticism but mitzvot, attainable actions that sanctify ourselves, our relationships, our experiences and our environment.
Messianism means confidence even when all seems lost, hope even against hope, and determination to help the Messiah along by means of human faithfulness.
Jews should continue, as they have throughout history, lifting the stone that will enable them to find spiritual nourishment and to share it with the world.