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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Concern for Whom?

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During the ‘peace treaty’ that Yaakov entered with Lavan, Lavan inserted a strange condition that obligated Yaakov not to "torment my daughters or take another wife in addition to my daughters" (Bereishit 31:50). While we can understand his wanting those results, why would he suspect that Yaakov would not be a good husband? Yaakov had worked so hard and with such integrity to gain Lavan’s permission to marry them! He had just made sure to receive their permission to return to the Land of his Fathers – despite an explicit divine decree to do so. Even if one will claim that Lavan was concerned with the plight of Leah, who after all, Yaakov had not planned to marry, it does not explain why he spoke in the plural about his daughters. Leah and Rachel both described the feelings that it was their father who had mistreated them, taking advantage of Yaakov’s eagerness to marry them and withholding the wages that he/they had earned. So who is the one who should be concerned about whom? It is true that the gemara (Yoma 77a) and several Rishonim understood Lavan’s concern as sincere, but after asking forgiveness of their opinions, we would like to suggest another scenario.
We have discussed in the past that Lavan had turned Yaakov into a captive of sorts, taking advantage of Yaakov’s fleeing from Eisav as a way to take away his freedom. By escaping from Lavan’s house with his wives, Yaakov was standing up to Lavan and declaring his independence. When Hashem appeared to Lavan and informed him that He would not allow Lavan to continue imposing his will on Yaakov, Lavan decided that it served his interests to enter into a treaty with Yaakov.
We have also seen that in the time of Tanach (and unfortunately still today in certain places), one of the ways to show one’s sovereignty over a conquered region was to distribute the women of the conquered nation among the leader and soldiers of the conquering nation. These women would be taken in addition to men’s own wives. On the basis of this background, we can understand Lavan’s condition as follows. His concern was not for his daughters, whom he used for deception, switching them on the night of Yaakov’s wedding to Rachel. Rather, he was concerned that Yaakov would come back to Aram and wage war against the people among whom he was a central leader. This would be accompanied, in his view, by Yaakov taking additional wives. In truth, if Rachel and Leah were to receive real freedom, it was by escaping from their father and his absurd treatment of their family.
To complete the freedom, though, Yaakov had to deal with the dangers posed by Eisav and his angel. When Yaakov stood up to the angel, he was given the name Yisrael, indicating that he had earned his independence for himself and his offspring.
Let us pray that our independence in the State of Israel will be used to continue the legacy of our physical and spiritual national father, Yaakov.
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