A love story: Boy has amazing dream in the middle of the wilderness after fleeing from his murderous, brother. Boy decides that God was in that place where he slept, and promises God that if the journey he’s on is successful, Boy will worship God forever. Boy heads into town, and starts hanging out at the local watering hole. Literally, the watering hole.
Girl is heading to the watering hole for her daily tending of her sheep. She sees Boy. Boy sees her and her flock. Boy rolls a big stone off of the well to impress her, and waters her sheep for her. Cue the violins.
“Now Jacob kissed Rachel, and began to cry in a loud voice.” (Gen 29:11)
Odd way to begin a love story. Ok, they kiss but he begins to weep? What made Jacob kiss a girl he’d never seen before, and what made him cry in a loud voice?
Naturally the rabbis had their explanations. Rashi (11th c France) said it was because Jacob could foresee that Rachel wouldn’t be buried with him, that she would die in childbirth. Another explanation was that he had no gifts to bring to Rachel, unlike his grandfather’s emissary Eliezer, who brought gifts to Rebecca when she agreed to marry Isaac.
I’m going to go with something else. Picture Jacob’s recent experiences. He has deceived his father in order to get the birthright away from his older brother, turning Esau into a deadly enemy. He runs out into the wilderness, with only an instruction from his mother to head toward the old country and find himself a wife from among his kin. Good luck, son, and goodbye.
Alone and tired, he lies out in the open with a stone for a pillow, and dreams a fantastic dream about angels going down and up a ladder; God speaks to him in that dream, promising him that like his grandfather Abraham, will give rise to a great nation. Perhaps Jacob is encouraged by this good sign. Perhaps he feels a little less lonely, scared and vulnerable. When he comes to town, and sees the beautiful Rachel, he throws all decorum aside and kisses her in public.
Like the stone he rolled off of the well so that Rachel’s flock could drink, her kiss rolled off a huge stone weighing down his heart, and he could drink in the sweetness of her acceptance. He is no longer the fugitive on the run, alone in the wilderness, leaving the hate from his brother, the sorrow of leaving his mother, and carrying the disappointment of his father. He will have a family, a future, he has a place to call home, at least for now. Yes, we who have read the story know that deception and discord will rule his family soon, but Jacob doesn’t know that yet.
He cries for the moment of welcome, of exhaling. Yet, perhaps in those tears, there is still the salt-sting of knowing that when the stone is rolled away, he is open to the pain as well as the joy. Jacob may not be able to name it yet, but it will make him cry again. For now, though, he cries the tears of love and hope.