By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, UWI

This week’s Torah portion is “Vayeitzei” (Genesis 28:10-32:3).  Vayeitzei means “he left,” referring to Jacob’s escape from Beersheba due to his brother Esau’s evil plot to kill him. Jacob was also on a mission to find himself a wife in Haran.

When Jacob arrived in Haran he immediately headed “downtown” where all the action was. In those days, “downtown” meant the central well (“well” as in “water”), where all the shepherds would gather to feed their flocks. Jacob got there a bit early in the day – well before the social scene was expected to get going. Nevertheless, a number of shepherds were indeed already at the well, earning themselves some rebuke from Jacob: “It’s still early! It’s not time to gather in the flocks. Give the sheep to drink and then take them to pasture.”

The question is asked: Why does Jacob reprimand the shepherds and tell them to get to work? In fact, he was just a visitor to town! What right does he have to tell the locals what to do and how to run their business?

The answer is that Jacob was a real “doer.” When we look back at his life until then, we see that he didn’t waste a moment. Every second was precious and he used his time to the fullest. In fact, we are told that when he went to learn in the study halls of Shem and Eber, he didn’t even sleep at night! Jacob was a true achiever, if not an over-achiever.

As we see later in this week’s Torah portion, Jacob served the wicked Laban for 14 years in order to marry Rachel. Laban cheated him time and time again, repeatedly changing his contract and not even coming through with his wages; nevertheless, Jacob remained straight and honest, working diligently, as if he had the best boss in the world. This was not only because Jacob was a truly righteous person, but also because he appreciated the value of labor.

When Jacob saw the shepherds, or anyone for that matter, sitting idly and wasting time, he simply could not understand. The middle of the day was given for work, for accomplishment, for productivity. Sitting around with friends is for “after hours.”

This reminds me of a famous parable of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter. He once noticed an elderly shoemaker working late into the night by the light of a small, flickering candle. Rabbi Salanter approached the man to ask why he was working so late at night. The rabbi pointed out the obvious, that it was difficult to work with so little light, and perhaps it would be better to wait until sunrise. The shoemaker simply looked at him and said, “As long as the candle is burning, there’s still time to work.

When Rabbi Salanter heard these words, he said it was the greatest lesson he had ever learned in life, and he repeated the shoemaker’s words over and over again. “As long as the candle is burning there’s still time to work”.

Similarly, it is said that the legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant kept a note in his pocket. Every morning he would take it out, unfold it, read it and return it to his pocket. When he died, the note was found in the back pocket of pants. It said:

This is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good.  What I do today is important as I am
exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever. Leaving something in its place I have traded for it. I want it to be a gain, not loss–good, not evil. Success, not failure, in order that I shall not forget the price I paid for it.

There are so many lessons that we can learn from our forefather Jacob, including  the value of time and proper work ethics, the value of effort and the reward of accomplishment. In Judaism there is no such thing as “killing time.” The next time you think you have nothing to do, remember Jacob and his talk with the local shepherds.  Remember that time is precious. Don’t ever waste a day or even a moment. Make all of your time in the world really count!

Click below to read more of my Torah articles about this week’s fascinating Torah portion:

1. Living Torah: Making the World a Better Place!

2. Jacob’s Ladder: From Heaven to the Temple Mount

Shabbat Shalom from Israel!