We read in Parashat Vayeitzei of Yaakov’s encounter with the shepherds of Charan upon his arrival at the well outside the city. Yaakov noticed that the shepherds had brought their herds to the well, instead of having them graze in the fields, and he assumed that they were ending their day, bringing their sheep back to town, even though it was still early in the afternoon. He remarked to them, “The day is still young; it is not yet time to bring in the sheep. Give the sheep water and continue shepherding” (29:7). The shepherds explained to Yaakov that they were not ending their day, and were rather waiting for all the shepherds to come together because the well was covered by a large stone that could be removed only by all the shepherds together.
A creative explanation of this episode is cited by Rav Yisrael of Modzhitz, in his Divrei Yisrael, in the name of his great-grandfather, Rav Tzvi Hersh Taub. Rashi (28:11) cites the famous Midrashic tradition that the previous night, when Yaakov slept and beheld the famous dream of the ladder extending to the heavens, the sun set early, before the time for sundown. The Midrash explains that God wanted Yaakov to sleep at that particular spot – the future site of the Beit Ha-mikdash – and so He had the sun set when Yaakov reached that site so he could not continue traveling, and would sleep there. Rav Tzvi Hersh Taub thus cleverly suggested that when Yaakov saw the shepherds appearing to end their day, he mistakenly assumed that they anticipated another early sunset. Since night had fallen early the previous day, Yaakov figured that in the shepherd’s minds, a permanent change occurred in the natural order, and the sun would be setting earlier from that day onward. He therefore approached them to clarify that the sun had set early the previous day specifically for him, and this unusual phenomenon did not herald a permanent change.
The depth of this “witty” reading of the story is that oftentimes, when we experience “darkness,” when it seems as though the “sun” is “setting” on our efforts, we feel discouraged and reluctant to move forward. When our efforts are fruitless, we question our abilities and begin to wonder if perhaps failure is our destiny. When “darkness” overtakes us one day, we might feel that this will happen the next day, too. Rav Tzvi Hersh Taub here applies to us Yaakov’s instructions to the shepherds of Charan: “The day is still young; it is not yet time to bring in the sheep.” If our efforts did not succeed in the past, this does not mean that we should discontinue our efforts in the present. The “early nightfall,” the unexpected failure, we encountered yesterday should not discourage us today. Even if yesterday was “dark,” today could very well be bright and successful. Rather than allow our failures to discourage us, and lead us to “end our day” without investing further effort, we should, as Yaakov told the shepherds, “continue shepherding” – persist with confidence and determination, pursuing our goals to the best of our ability.