As Yaakov was completing his long journey to Lavan he stopped by a well. The Torah explains that this well had a huge boulder on top of it which required the combined strength of many men to remove it, in order to ensure that no one single shepherd could take from the well until every shepherd was present. The Torah goes on to relate that when Yaakov saw Rachel approaching, he single-handedly rolled the rock off the well - an incredible feat of strength. Rashi comments that he did this with ease, and that the Torah is coming to tell us how mighty Yaakov Avinu was.
Judaism does not value the physical might of man; It values accomplishments. Why does the Torah specifically tell us how strong Yaakov was? What is the lesson that it is conveying by doing so?
On one bright and sunny day in Florida, there was a horrific accident which left a young child beneath the wheel of a car. A small crowd formed to see what was going on. Suddenly, a good samaritan rushed out of the crowd, lifted the car that weighed thousands of pounds with her bare hands, and saved the boy - who was rushed to the hospital and survived. Everyone was amazed by this incredible feat of raw strength. What was even more incredible, however, was the identity of the rescuer. You see, the hero was not some powerful bodybuilder or athlete. Rather, her name was Barbara and she was the boy's 69-year-old grandmother!
Barbara became a national sensation and many reporters wanted to get an exclusive interview with her. Strangely, she adamantly refused to talk about the incident. However, one particularly determined reporter persisted and finally got her to agree to an interview. When he met with her, he asked the question which was on all of the public’s minds: "why did you refuse being interviewed and why are you so hesitant to discuss your courageous actions? After all, what you did was truly heroic!”. She answered, with tears in her eyes, “After I saved my grandson, I realized that I possessed strength that I didn't even know was possible, and that anything could be accomplished if it means the world to you. That was so overwhelming for me because there were so many things in my own life that I wanted to accomplish, but I never even tried because I thought that it was impossible. Now, after all these years, I’m faced with the realization that if a goal is important enough to you, NOTHING is truly impossible".
One can answer our question homiletically as follows: There is a fundamental life mentality that Hashem wants us to learn from this episode with Yaakov and to apply to our own lives - NOTHING is impossible!!! Until this point in Yaakov's life, and even afterward, we never find the Torah mention that he possessed any superhuman strength. It seems that indeed, he did not possess any. Yet, when he saw Rachel approaching the well, he felt that he had to lift that huge rock. Without hesitation, he gave this seemingly impossible task his absolute all and tried his hardest... and he succeeded. This account is supposed to teach us that virtually anything can be done if we put our minds to it *. All that stands in our way, as Barbara only discovered later in life, is our natural tendency to underestimate just how capable we really are.
Is such determination in the face of impossible odds a particularly Jewish character trait? From where did Yaakov learn this attitude? He inherited this important character trait from Avraham Avinu, and so have WE. In Parshas Lech Licha, Hashem told Avraham to "count the stars...So shall your offspring be!” (15:5). The common interpretation of this verse is that Hashem blessed Avraham that his children would be as multiple as the stars. R' Meir Shapiro (founder of the famous Daf Yomi program), however, offers a more novel approach. He explains that when Avraham was instructed to count the infinite stars, a seemingly IMPOSSIBLE task, he immediately attempted to count them! It didn't matter that it seemed impossible. He had the mentality that "If this is what Hashem wants from me, it doesn't matter if it seems unachievable. I must try!". Hashem rewarded him by blessing him, "So shall your offspring be!” - meaning that so too will your children possess this crucial character trait to not shy away from the "impossible" looking challenges in life, and I bless them that they will succeed.
These accounts are supposed to teach us an incredible lesson: Never let yourself be fooled into thinking that something is impossible. If you are willing to give it your all, there is virtually nothing that can't be accomplished.
Our generation, is the greatest testament to this fact. After World War 2, nobody thought that Orthodox Jewry could possibly be rebuilt. After all, the concentration camps decimated our nation both physically and emotionally. Furthermore, after the war there were so many Jews who migrated to America which at the time was a spiritual wasteland. Who would have the strength to rebuild? Things did not look good for our future. Yet, in a relatively short amount of time, look how far we have come! Yeshivos and shuls are constantly expanding at a rapid rate. There are more people learning Torah full-time today than in almost any other time in Jewish history, and an incredible amount of people who are learning Torah regularly. Furthermore, despite living in America, we have succeeded in building our own "Jewish world” - and have our own Jewish music, concerts, books and novels, weekly magazines, restaurants etc. We have accomplished the impossible.
Whether you are struggling with your spirituality, your connection with Hashem, your relationship with your family or friends, in overcoming illness, or in being all that you can be - never ever back down. Avraham and Yaakov were not intimidated by a seemingly impossible task, and neither should YOU. If you are willing to give life your absolute all, you will find that you really could do anything!!
*- Perhaps the reason why this is so is because Hashem created us with a tzelem Elokim, a likeness to G-d Himself, and in essence imbued us with unlimited strength to do whatever we set our minds to.