LAVAN’S INSTRUCTION TO US
November 17, 2015
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #996, Parsha Thought, VaYeitzei

LAVAN’S ACCUSATION

Yaakov had been working for his father-in-law Lavan for 22 years. He endured the most harsh conditions; suffering greatly from Lavan’s duplicity and corruption. An angel of G-d appears to Yaakov in a dream and advises him to return to his homeland. The Torah then recounts how Yaakov left with all his family and possessions. It characterizes his departure in the following manner:

Yaakov deceived Lavan the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing.

The 18th century Sephardic commentator, Or HaChayim, asks, why does the Torah say that “he did not tell him that he was fleeing?” If he told Lavan he was fleeing, he would not be fleeing! Indeed, the whole idea of fleeing is to conceal one’s departure. The Torah should have said, “He did not tell him he was leaving,” or that “Yaakov deceived Lavan by fleeing.”

COMING OR GOING?

We may find the answer to this question by referring to another difficulty we find in the beginning of the parsha. There, the Torah relates, “Yaakov left from Be’er-Sheva and went to Charan.” Rashi notes the obvious redundancy here and states: “It need only have written ‘and Yaakov went to Charan.’ Why does it mention his departure?” We already know that Yaakov lived in Be’er Sheva so it is obvious that if he went to Charan, he had surely departed from Be’er Sheva.

THREE SCENARIOS

One may suggest the following explanation:

When a person leaves one place to go to another there can be three possibilities:

First, the person may feel a need to escape from the negative situation in which he is situated. In this scenario it makes no difference where he goes so long as he is at a distance from his point of origin. Jewish history is tragically replete with Jews in need of escaping the tyranny, persecution and destruction of a given locale; it made no difference where they would go. They just wanted to escape.

The second scenario is the reverse of the first. The person may find one’s place of origin to be fine and comfortable. However, there is something even more positive to be had in another location.

The third scenario is a combination of the first two. There is something negative about this person’s hometown from which he is forced to leave to avoid harm. However, he or she also has a place to go to that is independently positive. Not only is one escaping the negative, he or she is also running towards the positive.

Yaakov’s departure from Be’er Sheva appears to have been an example of the third scenario. He was compelled to run away from the wrath of his brother Esau who was plotting to murder him because he had appropriated their father’s blessings. This is clearly the rationale he got from Rebecca, his mother.

However, when Rebecca approached Yitzchok, she understandably did not mention Yaakov’s need to escape the wrath of Esau for that would have caused Yitzchok untold emotional pain and anguish. Instead she referred only to Yaakov’s need to find a suitable wife amongst their family members in Charan.

Hence, the Torah indicates that there were two factors in Yaakov’s departure: First he left Be’er Sheva to escape with his life. The Torah then states that he went to Charan to indicate the additional, positive, reason for his departure – that it was to find his mate and establish the Jewish people.

From Rebecca’s mention of the danger in telling Yaakov to escape it was clear that it was the main reason for his departure. That she mentioned to Yitzchok the need for Yaakov to find a wife in Charan because the daughters of Canaan disgusted her was merely a way of convincing Yitzchok to let Yaakov go without telling him the main reason.

When Yaakov meets Lavan, the Torah relates that “he recounted to Lavan all these events.” According to Rashi, Yaakov told Lavan “that he came only under duress because of his brother.” In other words, Yaakov did not reveal that he came to find a wife. That came only after he offered to work for Lavan and he chose the prospect of marrying Rochel as pay for his work.

Lavan understood that Yaakov was essentially there because he had to flee.

LAVAN’S INDICTMENT OF YAAKOV

After 22 years of marriage to Rochel and Leah, fathering 11 children (Binyamin had not yet been born), and amassing a huge fortune, Lavan could not understand why Yaakov would want to flee.

Lavan claimed that it would not have disturbed him if Yaakov wanted to leave because he longed to be back with his family. However, the idea that Yaakov had not shed his need to escape demonstrated that he was a fleer. He observed that Yaakov was constantly running away from situations. In essence, Lavan asserted that Yaakov was not motivated by positive stimuli but always ran away from something he believed was negative.

With this canard, Lavan self-righteously intended to illustrate Yaakov’s flawed personality; always running away, never able to make the most of a situation.

This answers Or HaChayim’s question. The reason it says that “Yaakov deceived Lavan the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing,” is because it suggests that Yaakov always gave the impression that he was making the most of his stay with Lavan but now he had revealed his true character as a perennial “fleer.”

NEVER MADE PEACE WITH EXILE

In truth, Yaakov had it right. Living with Lavan was a form of living in Galus. Yaakov showed the way for the future of the Jewish people. No matter how much we may prosper in exile, materially and spiritually, we must never make peace with it or consider it to be our lasting home.

This explains Rivka’s focus on Yaakov’s need to escape the wrath of his brother rather than the positive factor of finding a suitable wife in Charan.

For Yaakov to leave the Holy Land, his parents, Yitzchak and Rivka (and the Academy of Shem and Ever where he studied Torah, as recounted in the Midrash), there had to be a compelling reason—to save his life. The fact that he would find his mate there was a bonus but, in and of itself, did not justify Yaakov’s hasty departure. After all, Yitzchok did not leave the Holy Land to find a wife for himself. Instead Avraham sent Eliezer. The same approach could have been used for Yaakov’s marriage arrangements.

For the Jewish people to leave the Holy Land, no matter how much we accomplish in exile, is still a tragedy.

Our Sages state that a guest must listen to everything the host tells him except if he tells him to leave.

The Rebbe would apply this to our going into exile. We must listen to everything we are told by G-d but we cannot be compelled to leave His presence. If we are forced out of the Holy Land we leave reluctantly. We never make peace with our existence in exile.

The Torah underscores the fact that Yaakov left Be’er Sheva to indicate that he was forced to leave. However, once he left he sought to make the most of his situation by finding his mate and establishing the first Jewish family, the nucleus of the Jewish nation.

Now that he had established a family and had the resources to return home, Yaakov decided to escape. By doing so he demonstrated that 22 years of life in Galus did not make him lose any of his natural abhorrence of that state of being. The reluctance he expressed when he left Be’er Sheva because of his attachment to the Holy Land remained with him and motivated him to escape.

Lavan, who personifies the Galus mentality, cannot comprehend that Yaakov had not made peace with Galus. He therefore chided Yaakov for being a fleer; unable to focus positively on the future.

LAVAN WANTED TO DESTROY IT ALL

This might explain the words of the Hagada which we recite at the Seder, that Lavan was worse than Pharaoh, who only wanted to destroy the male children, as opposed to Lavan who “sought to uproot everything.”

Where do we find that Lavan tried to kill all of his children?

The answer might be in his attempt to instill a Galus mentality in Yaakov and his progeny. If Yaakov had made peace with Galus, he would have brought that mentality with him upon his return home and it would have aborted the Jewish nation. What makes the Jewish people unique and gives them their staying power is their ability to rise above the constraints of Galus. To undermine that gift would be, G-d forbid, their very demise as a people.

THE HOLY LAVAN

However, Lavan’s words cannot be dismissed as merely the tirade of an evil person which we must reject without consideration.

Indeed, there are laws that we derive from Lavan, such as waiting a week between two marriages in the same family so we do not mix one celebration with another. Likewise, Lavan is the source of the custom that dictates it is preferable not to marry off a younger sibling before the older. Likewise, a woman does not get married against her will. All of these practices are actually derived from Lavan!

Similarly, there is a message here for us that we can derive from Lavan’s words (if not his intentions):

In our generation, the last one of exile and the first of Redemption, we have the choice of running away from exile or running towards redemption. Indeed, we cry out ad masai, how much longer?! Galus conditions are intolerable. Particularly, when we see the evil forces that surround and wish to destroy the Land of Israel and its inhabitants, heaven forefend, we are moved to want to run away, Yaakov style.

Yet, Lavan, whom Kabbalists say relates allegorically to the sublime, transcendent, spiritual “whiteness,” exhorts us to deemphasize the “running away” syndrome of Jewish life. Why do we always need to be in the escape mode? Our primary focus should be running towards Geula rather than running away from Galus. The prospects of Geula should be so exciting and extraordinary that our hearts should be racing, impelling us to do everything in our power to hasten the Geula, even if only one second earlier!

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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