Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayetze
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Yossef ben Simcha

Lavan's devious selfishness


Rabbi Berel Wein

4 Kislev 5769

The main character in this week’s parsha, aside from our father Yaakov, is Lavan of Aram, who becomes the father-in-law of Yaakov and the grandfather of the twelve tribes of Israel. Lavan is portrayed as a devious, scheming and duplicitous person. He is narcisstic in the extreme, only interested in his own selfish wants, even sacrificing his daughters to fulfill his scheming goals. In the famous statement of the rabbis, the Hagada of Pesach teaches us that Lavan was a greater and even more dangerous enemy of Jewish survival than was the Pharaoh that enslaved Israel in Egyptian bondage! Lavan is portrayed as wishing to uproot all Jewish existence for all time. Pharaoh threatened Jewish physical existence by drowning the Jewish male infants in the Nile. But even then the Jewish people could have survived and limped along through the female line of Israel (which is often even a stronger bond than the male line.) However Lavan intended to destroy Yaakov and his descendants spiritually. He tells Yaakov that the "sons of Yaakov are my sons and the daughters of Yaakov are my daughters and all that Yaakov possesses, physically and spiritually all belong to me." In Lavan’s eyes the Jewish people and their faith and vision and goals are to be non-existent. Only Lavan is entitled to life and success. Everyone else, especially a conscience laden family such as that of Yaakov, are only entitled to become part of Lavan’s world or they are to be eliminated. The selfishness of Lavan knows no bounds. The rule of the rabbis that one is jealous of the success of all others except that one is never jealous of one’s own children and students ironically finds its own exception in the case of Lavan who remains jealous and inimical even of the success of his own children and grandchildren.

It is interesting to note that after his role as it appears in this week’s parsha, Lavan disappears from the biblical scene. In attempting to destroy Yaakov and the Jewish people Lavan in essence destroys himself and is not granted in the Torah any positive mention of eternity. Such is always the fate of the attempted destroyers of Israel. History is littered with the bones of those who came to eradicate Jews and Judaism from the world. Some used the devious tactics of Lavan (such as Napoleon and his sham Sanhedrin which was intended to "modernize" and assimilate the Jews of Europe and the attempt of the Marxists to create a Marxist Jew who no longer would be a Jew or a believer, among other such examples) while others used the more direct methods of Pharaoh to physically enslave, terrorize and eliminate the Jewish people. All have failed in these nefarious endeavors. Lavan’s selfishness is his own undoing. Much of the hatred directed towards the Jewish people and the State of Israel is still based on jealousy and selfishness. It therefore dooms the hater to eventual extinction and disappearance. Thus the lesson of Lavan’s eventual fate, of his being erased from the eternal book, is part of the great morality play which is the narrative of this week’s parsha.

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