Yaakov runs away from Esav his brother. His mother (Rivkah) has told his father (Yitzchak) that the reason he is leaving is to find a wife back home, where Rivkah came from, even though we know that Esav is the problem. But of course, it is possible to combine both reasons in such a way as to repeat the experience of the previous generation. Then Eliezer, sent by Avraham, had gone back to Aram and straight to the well to find a wife. This time too Yaakov ends up at the well, but not as a wealthy man carrying camel-loads of goodies. He is poor, with only his physical strength to offer. He arrives towards evening and strikes up a conversation with the local shepherds. He enquires after Lavan, his uncle, and at that moment Rachel appears with her sheep (women had careers back then too!)
Yaakov is smitten. You might have thought that he was a weakling, for this is the image we have of him as a “tent dweller “. But he is strong enough to roll a heavy stone off the well to enable the shepherds to water their flocks, and he personally waters Lavan’s sheep, in a reversal of the earlier roles.
Once again Lavan runs out to the well, but this time he is disappointed–no money, no gold ornaments–and he takes Yaakov in to work for his keep. Very different. But the similarity of the well is no coincidence. Water is the source of life and fertility. It is also the community center and the natural meeting place for strangers, as well as locals. But in practice it is a very reliable place to test character.
The Talmud says people can be judged by the way they drink, spend their money, and do or do not control their anger. When a person is thirsty, or competing for attention, the baser inner characteristics emerge. If you are thirsty and tired and can still be considerate and use what resources you have left to help others, then this is as much a sign to Rachel that Yaakov is a good man as Rivkah showed her goodness to Eliezer in a previous generation.