23 Nov 2023 Vayeitzei 5784: Lavan’s hatred, An Eternal Enemy
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayeitzei, the journey of Yaakov Avinu continues. Fleeing the wrath of his brother Eisav, he first spends fourteen years hiding out and learning in Yeshivas Shem v’Ever. He then departs from Beer Sheva and heads to Charan (28:10). It is during this journey that he has his famous dream on makom ha’Mikdash, which he names Beis El (Bereishis 28:10-22).
Moving on to the house of Lavan his father-in-law, he marries his wives (Leah, Zilpah, Rachel and Bilhah), and all of his children (aside from Binyanim who is born in Bereishis 35) are born to him. Once Yosef is born, he tells Lavan it is time for him to go back home, to Canaan. However, he then remains with Lavan for an additional six years, working for his flocks. After twenty years with Lavan, his family has grown, as has his wealth, and he is ready to finally head home.
Fleeing from Eisav: וַיֹּאמֶר עֵשָׂו בְּלִבּוֹ, יִקְרְבוּ יְמֵי אֵבֶל אָבִי, וְאַהַרְגָה, אֶת–יַעֲקֹב אָחִי – And Eisav said in his heart – when my father dies, I will kill Yaakov my brother (Toldos, 27:41), he ends up in the home of Lavan (Vayeitzei). And escaping from the home of Lavan, he ends up confronting Eisav once again (Vayishlach). Not for naught do the Sages teach us: אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחַאי, הֲלָכָה הִיא בְּיָדוּעַ שֶׁעֵשָׂו שׂוֹנֵא לְיַעֲקֹב – It is a known halacha that Eisav hates Yaakov (Rashi to Bereishis 33:4). The hatred of the umos ha’olam finds its source all the way back in Torah – both b’ktav and ba’al peh – and this hatred is as old as our nation itself.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav zt’l teaches: “Our Sages introduce Lavan as the enemy of our people. Somehow, Chazal saw Lavan in a different light than we see him. When we study Parshas Vayeitzei, we see Lavan as a liar, a cheater, an exploiter, but not as a killer. How do Chazal know that Lavan was such a psychopath, such a Jew hater? Apparently, Chazal saw something in the text; they had proof: וַיָּבֹא אֱלֹקֹים אֶל–לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי, בַּחֲלֹם הַלָּיְלָה; וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן–תְּדַבֵּר עִם–יַעֲקֹב—מִטּוֹב עַד–רָע – And G-d came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night, and He said to him, ‘Beware lest you speak with Jacob either good or evil’ (Bereishis 31:24). If the Almighty found it necessary to contact Lavan and warn him against inflicting harm upon Yaakov, we may assume that Lavan intended to do great harm to Yaakov. Apparently, Lavan intended to annihilate him; otherwise, G-d would not have revealed Himself to Lavan.
“Lavan himself admitted to this later. He said, יֶשׁ–לְאֵל יָדִי, לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּכֶם רָע; וֵאלֹקֹי אֲבִיכֶם אֶמֶשׁ אָמַר אֵלַי לֵאמֹר, הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ מִדַּבֵּר עִם–יַעֲקֹב—מִטּוֹב עַד–רָע – I have the power to inflict harm upon you, but the G-d of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Beware of speaking with Jacob either good or bad’ (Bereishis 31:29). What phrase in the verse should attract the attention of everyone who reads it? ‘It lies within the power of my hand to do evil unto you.’ Lavan says he had wanted to come and avenge himself against Yaakov. Only the intervention of the Almighty prevented him from executing his evil plan.
“More significant is Lavan’s use of the plural form: לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּכֶם רָע – to do bad with you (plural). If he was addressing himself to Yaakov, he should have used the singular. But he was speaking to his own two daughters and his own grandchildren. If G-d had not warned him the night before, he would have exterminated not only Yaakov – a foreigner, a son-in-law – but even his own children and grandchildren! … They do not belong to him; he is not their father. He is completely alienated. His god is not their G-d; they serve Yaakov’s G-d…
“Nothing short of divine intervention would have stopped Lavan from implementing his plans. In comparison to him, Pharaoh was sane. Of course, Pharaoh had ordered the Hebrew sons cast into the Nile… Pharaoh was immoral, an exploiter, a slave-driver, but he was normal. He made money from his slave society. The temptation to exploit the Jews was too strong. He wanted to keep them downtrodden, but he did not try to wipe them out, nor did he wish to harm his own family.
“Lavan proves that the hatred of the Jew can reach psychopathic proportions. It is not only wrong from a moral point of view, but it is an abnormal, sick emotion from a psychiatric standpoint. Only a madman could have devised the Final Solution, the plan to exterminate every single Jew. The hatred of our enemies today is abnormal, and that is what is frightening. Lavan was ready to kill his own daughters because they had adopted a G-d he did not understand; he felt so alienated from them that he kindled an insane hatred against his own children. This is what Chazal meant: וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְלָנוּ. שֶׁלֹּא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד עָמַד עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ, אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלוֹתֵנוּ. Some of our enemies are worse than Pharaoh… וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם – and Hashem always saves us from their hands.
“If you want to find out what kind of enemies we have, צֵא וּלְמַד מַה בִּקֵּשׁ לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי לַעֲשׂוֹת לְיַעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ: שֶׁפַּרְעֹה לֹא גָזַר אֶלָּא עַל הַזְּכָרִים, וְלָבָן בִּקֵּשׁ לַעֲקֹר אֶת–הַכֹּל. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט, וַיְהִי שָׁם לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל, עָצוּם וָרָב. It is not just that he wanted to uproot everything, but that everything included his own flesh and blood! This kind of hatred of the Jew is indicative only of insanity” (Festival of Freedom, p.122-125).
Sefer Bereishis is known as sefer ha’siman – the Book of Foreshadowing (Ramban to Bereishis 12:6), for all that happened to our forefathers is a foreshadowing, a blueprint, a pattern of what would happen to their children – what happens to us. As Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael continue to battle the eternal enemies of halacha b’ya’duah – and we mourn for so many kedoshim u’tehorim HY”D since Oct. 7 – dayeinu! – we must demonstrate with full faith and belief that it is only HKB”H Who can save us from their hands; אִם־ה’ לֹֽא־יִבְנֶ֬ה בַ֗יִת שָׁ֚וְא עָֽמְל֣וּ בוֹנָ֣יו בּ֑וֹ אִם ה’ לֹֽא־יִשְׁמָר־עִ֜֗יר שָׁ֚וְא שָׁקַ֬ד שׁוֹמֵֽר (Tehillim 127:1). As He delivered Yaakov and his family from Lavan and Eisav, may He speedily deliver us with everlasting peace and the geula sha’laimoh – immediately and in our days.
בברכת בשורות טובות וישועות בקרב,