As Yaakov nears the end of his journey to Lovon’s home, he notices shepherds standing around a well. Wondering why the shepherds are just standing and waiting, he greets them.
“My brothers,” he begins, “where are you from?”
After asking about Lovon and his family, he then asks the question that has been bothering him. “It is not yet time to bring the sheep back. Why don’t you water the sheep and continue grazing?”
Rashi explains Yaakov’s question. “If these are your sheep,” Yaakov asks, “then why don’t you give them their water? And if you are working for someone else, then why are you just sitting here?”
The shepherds explain to Yaakov that because it is impossible to lift the rock (the cover of the well) and draw water alone, they wait until enough shepherds arrive so they can lift the rock together. The exchange seems simple, except for one word. Why did Yaakov call shepherds he had just met “my brothers”?
Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky זצ‘‘ל explained that Yaakov approached a group of shepherds he had never met and wanted to admonish them in a gentle manner. He realized that unless he considered them brothers and called them such, they would turn a deaf ear. Only after they explained to him that all the shepherds had to gather to lift the rock, did Yaakov understand that his complaints were unjustified. But Yaakov was able to present his תוכחה to the shepherds because he began with one simple friendly greeting: “My brothers.” The moment he began with the concept of brotherhood, any suggestion – even criticism – would be effective.
Yaakov taught us a lesson: you cannot correct a person by shouting at them, but if you show a person first that you truly care about his welfare, he will more readily listen to your critique and תוכחה. This lesson should guide all our interactions, but it is especially important to remember that whenever the need arises to admonish or correct our children, we need to incorporate this lesson from Parshas Vayeitzei. We must always show our תוכחה is coming from love, and make sure we say it in a way that conveys it to our children.
Rabbi Gidon Goldberg
Head of School