In Chayei Sarah, Avraham sends his servant to find a wife for Yitzhak. The servant sits by a well in Amram Naharaim and Rivkah offers him and his camels water. The servant gives her some jewellery and goes with her to her home so that he can speak to her father but Lavan, her brother, rushes out and usurps his father’s status.
In Vayetze, when Yaakov is running away from Esav he stops at a well near Haran where he meets Rachel. He helps her, goes to her home and meets her father, Lavan. Yaakov stays in Lavan’s home and marries his daughters but, as we read a few weeks ago, is not treated well.
In this week’s parsha, Shemot, Moshe is also fleeing and stops at a well in Midian. He helps Yitro’s daughters at the well and as a result they go home much sooner than expected. Yitro asks them why and they tell him about Moshe’s assistance. Yitro sends them back to find him and bring him home. Moshe agrees to stay with Yitro and marries Zipporah, one of his daughters.
Just like Yaakov, Moshe tends his father-in-law’s sheep but seems to be looked after far better than Yaakov. Indeed, after the episode of the Burning Bush, in Chapter 4:18 Moshe asks Yitro for permission to return to Egypt and Yitro says “Go in peace”. Compare that to Lavan’s treatment of Yaakov.
Each episode is similar, each episode is different. Rivka helped the servant, and the servant gave gifts to her as well as obviously not becoming her husband.
Yaakov and Moshe did the helping and gave no gifts. Rivka and Moshe, together with Zipporah, were allowed to leave freely. Yaakov was not. For a stranger coming into town, wells were clearly a good place to meet people. They also gave an opportunity to gain insights into someone’s character and that was enough for the servant. Yaakov and Moshe lived with their wives’ families for some time. Yaakov seemed to be constantly at odds with his father-in-law. These similarities and differences have caused me to question how much he was able to use his experiences to help his sons develop. Moshe seemed to benefit from a much warmer relationship and went on to lead the Children of Israel, continuing to take Yitro’s advice along the way.
I’ve found that when I have had major decisions to make in my life they might seem to be similar to decisions that I’ve made before but will in some way be subtly different. It’s so important to stop, think and build on the past before just repeating what’s been done before.