When Stones Are More than Rocks

I love to hike, and I have a habit of collecting stones as a reminder of where I have been. A simple rock becomes a treasured reminder that evokes feelings and memories of a past experience.

This week's Torah portion, Vayeitzei, continues the story of Jacob as he flees after tricking his father to give him the birthright intended for his brother Esau. Jacob's odyssey incorporates three different references to stones. Approaching Beth El at night, Jacob finds a stone that he uses as a headrest and upon awakening he takes the stone and "sets it up as a monument."

Continuing on his journey, Jacob comes upon a well and there he meets the love of his life, Rachel. However, the well is sealed by a heavy rock and can only be removed by group of shepherds who join together to lift the large stone. Jacob, so taken by the vision of Rachel, impresses her by single-handedly removing the stone, allowing her to access the water. This begins a very complicated love story that only reading the text can explain.

Finally (spoiler alert) after many years of labor and a marriage to Rachel's sister Leah, Jacob unites with Rachel and acquires a great deal of wealth. To mark the boundaries of their adjacent property, Jacob and his father-in-law Laban take stones and erect a monument.

For us at the Federation, stones have a very different but no less significant meaning. Just as the stones I collect on my woodland hikes remind me of wonderful moments from my past, the monuments we care for in the 31 cemeteries the Federation oversees remind us of all the departed neighbors, fellow congregants, friends and family who together built our Greater Hartford community. In accordance with Jewish tradition, whenever we visit Federation-run cemeteries, we place a stone on top of each monument as a sign of respect and obligation.

Once the snow has melted, I'll be back on the trail - and this time I'll be thinking more carefully about each stone I come across. I hope you'll do the same.

Shabbat Shalom.


Howard Sovronsky
President and CEO