Volume 5 Issue 7
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Fleeing from his brother Esav, Yaakov travels to his uncle Lavan in Charan;
as he nears the town, he sees a peculiar sight. He sees a field and in the
middle of it, he spots a well with a large rock placed upon its mouth.
Three flocks of sheep with their shepherds nearby are standing near it,
waiting to be watered. But the shepherds are just standing and waiting.
It seems that they have no work to do and are about to take the sheep back
to their pens. The flocks are crouching and waiting for something. Yaakov
is very curious. So Yaakov greets them, "My brothers!" he begins. "Where
are you from?" They tell him that they are from Charan. Yaakov inquires
about the welfare of Lavan and his family, and then Yaakov asks the
question. "The day is yet large; it is not yet time to bring the sheep
back. Why don't you water the sheep and continue grazing?" (Genesis
29:4-7) Rashi explains the verse in detail. "If these are your sheep,"
Yaakov asks, "then why don't you give them their water? And," Yaakov
continues "if you are working for someone else, then why are you just
The shepherds explain to Yaakov that they would like to water the sheep but
unless a large group of shepherds arrive, they cannot. It is impossible to
lift the rock and draw water. Therefore they sit and wait each day until
enough shepherds arrive to give lift the rock (Genesis 29:8). It seems to
be a fair and understandable exchange except for one word. Yaakov began
the conversation with a term of endearment. "My brothers!" No pun
intended, but Yaakov did not know these shepherds from Adam!
Why did he begin his question with words that seem to show an affinity that
could not have yet been forged? He just met these men, why does he call
I recently heard a wonderful story about someone I know dearly: A
prominent Chassidic Rebbe was not feeling all that well so his doctor
recommended that he go for a comprehensive cardio-vascular examination
including a stress test, echo-cardiogram and a slew of other tests would be
beneficial. He recommended a prominent cardiologist, Dr. Paul Fegil (not
his real name), who headed the cardiology department of a large medical
center in Manhattan.
Waiting for the doctor to arrive, the Rebbe felt very uncomfortable in the
unfamiliar surrounding. He barely responded to the nurse's questions
pertaining to his medical health and history. The nurse was frustrated as
the Rebbe almost refused to discuss his symptoms. It got worse. When the
nurse began attaching electrodes to all parts of his chest, he began to
sweat. He became so nervous that the monitors and other meters connected
to the wires began to pulsate wildly.
The nurse was astounded by the very erratic movements on the heart monitor.
Never having seen lines jump off the monitor like that, the nurse quickly
ran out of the examining room to summon the esteemed cardiologist
immediately. Meanwhile, the Rebbe was still sweating profusely as his heart
was pounding wildly.
All of a sudden the door opened and in walked Dr. Fegil. He was a
distinguished looking man with graying hair a warm smile and a small
leather yarmulke on his head. He stood at the opening, and exclaimed to
the Rebbe. "Sholom Aleichem! Rebbe! HaKol B'seder? Is everything OK?"
Hearing those familiar words, the Rebbe became startled. He picked up his
head and saw the doctor. He could not believe it Dr. Paul Fegil was one of
his own! Almost magically, the bells and whistles that were muddling the
monitor suddenly stopped. Immediately all the readings showed a sign of a
very normal heart beat! Minutes later the Rebbe told the nurse every one of
his maladies and his entire medical history as well!
Dr. Fegil looked at the nurse and laughed. "Sometimes a few haimishe words
can fix more problems than open-heart surgery!"
Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, of blessed memory, explained that Yaakov approached
a group of shepherds whom he had never met. He wanted to admonish them in
a gentle manner while finding out what was transpiring at the well. After
all, he was puzzled, why were they just sitting around waiting. However,
Yaakov was smarter than just to criticize. He knew that unless he both
called and considered them as brothers they would turn a deaf ear.
It was only after they explained to him that until all the shepherds
gathered to lift the rock, they could do nothing, did Yaakov understand
that his complaints were unjustified. But Yaakov had no problems
presenting his critique to the shepherds for one simple reason. He began
with one simple exclamation. "My brothers." Yaakov approached them by
exclaiming, "Brothers! Where are you from?" The moment he initiated the
concept of brotherhood, any suggestion -- even criticism -- would be
allowed. Criticisms, even constructive ones, are difficult, but Yaakov
taught us a lesson: Before you can espouse your druthers, make sure that
you are talking to brothers!
Dedicated In memory of our Zayde, Herbert Hauser
Reb Avraham Yehoshua Heshel ben Reb Yehuda HaCohen
by Ira & Leah Hauser, Miriam, Josh, Tamar & Shlomo
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
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which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation