The motif of a well, a young man meeting a beautiful young girl (who will be his wife), and giving water to animals is a familiar one in B’reshit. The first such encounter is with Yitchak and Rivka, when Avraham’s servant Eliezer is charged with the mission of finding a match for his son; Yitchak.
Eliezer prays: “O Lord, God of my master Avraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Avraham. Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water; let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink’, and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’- let her be the one whom You have decreed for your servant Yitchak. B’reshit 24:13-14
The act of watering the camels is symbolic; it tells us that Rivka is nuturing, kind and compassionate. She will be a good Jewish mother to her children and to Am Yisrael.
The story in this week's parsha differs from the first well scene, in that the central characters, Yaakov and Rachel - who are going to create their own future and a future for the Jewish people - actually meet.
Unlike the story of Yitchak and Rivkah, where Rivkah is chosen by Avraham's servant, Yaakov and Rachel uncover the potential of their relationship at the well together. Whilst the stories share the motif of a meeting at a well, this week's story is unique in emphasizing that Yaakov actively uncovered the rock for Rachel, in her presence, so that she could access the water.
This is foreshadowing of what will be revealed later on in the narrative. The act of uncovering the well by removing the stone symbolizes Yaakov’s desire for Rachel, allowing his love to flow for his beloved, just as water is drawn from the well for the flocks of sheep to drink. Stopping the flow by covering the well with a heavy stone signifies his despair brought on by Laban’s (Rachel and Leah’s father) deception. Yaakov is tricked into marrying Leah, Rachel’s elder sister. He must work seven years in hard labour as an indentured servant, waiting to marry his beloved Rachel. In effect, the well is covered, no water is drawn and love does not flow forth from their union.
When Yaakov marries Rachel the heavy stone is removed, water can be drawn and their love flourishes.