It’s not just that Jacob is a refugee when he arrives at the well near Haran; he also has a presumptuous attitude. This much is apparent from the first sentences that he utters to the local men. Calling out to them with a tone of familiarity, “My brothers, where are you from?” he proceeds to criticize and them direct them. Jacob says, “It is still broad daylight, too early to round up the animals; water the flock and take them out to pasture.” The shepherds seem to have been taking a siesta in the afternoon, using the well-worn excuse that they need to wait for more workers before returning to work. Jacob implies that they are lazy; his gallant feat of single-handedly rolling off the stone emphasizes that point. Perhaps it impresses Rachel, but I doubt it makes friends of his new neighbors.
Midrash Pesikta Zutrata (29:7) understands Jacob as a budding lawyer. His complex inquiry is designed to ascertain whether they are hired hands, in which case they still owe hours to their employer, or if they are the owners of the flocks, in which case they are missing the opportunity to maximize their profit. The Midrash concludes, “from here we learn that when an important man goes to another place and sees something out of order, that he must intervene with them and not say, ‘let my soul be quiet.’” This reading assumes that Jacob would have preferred to mind his own business, but since he already understood himself to be an “important man,” he felt obliged to intervene. A less charitable reading would be that Jacob is never willing to leave things be. He is on the lookout for opportunity, and minding his own business is not in keeping with his character. Continue reading