With his fascinating story, The Case of the Colorblind Painter, neurologist Oliver Sacks impelled me to utter a blessing thanking God for my ability to see color. Thank you Dr. Sacks; you taught me something new.
After becoming abnormally colorblind after a car accident, even ketchup became inedible for this painter because of its unappetizing, dark black appearance. More seriously, he stopped socializing. People’s skin, even his own wife’s, appeared a repulsive and abhorrent gray.
Seeing things only in shadings of black, white and gray robs us of the limitless nuance and subtlety God built into His world. Individual hues merge together, making distinctions meaningless.
Being unable to see distinctions in more important areas than color makes unhealthy moral decisions more likely.
Let me introduce you to a seemingly innocuous Biblical character, Lavan. He was Jacob’s father-in-law, yet, during the Passover Seder, we thoroughly condemn him as wicked.
What is Lavan’s background? Abraham had two brothers, Nachor and Haran (Genesis 11:26).
Nachor had a son, Betuel (Genesis 22:22). Betuel had two children, Rebecca and Lavan (Genesis 28:5).
As we meet Lavan, he is usurping his father’s role. When Abraham’s servant, Eliezer arrives at Betuel’s house after meeting Rebecca at the well, it is Lavan who takes charge. He steps forward rather than allowing his father the prerogative of welcoming a guest into his home (Genesis 24:29-33).
Lavan, once again blurring his relationship with his father, authorizes his sister’s marriage.
And Lavan and Betuel answered and he said, “This matter is from God.”
Ancient Jewish wisdom stresses that Lavan is mentioned before his father indicating that he obnoxiously preceded him. Furthermore, the Hebrew word for “answered” is in the singular; VaYa’AN. We would have expected the plural, VaYa’ANU, since both son and father responded. This grammatical hint informs us that Lavan rudely pushed his father aside and assumed full authority.
In a later verse even Jacob identifies Lavan as the son of Nachor, his grandfather rather than his father Betuel.
“Do you know Lavan the son of Nachor?” They replied “We know him.”
It seems that it was universally known that Lavan identified himself as interchangeable with his father.
Lavan also thinks of his children as interchangeable.
After agreeing to allow his daughter Rachel to marry her cousin Jacob, Lavan ruthlessly replaced her with her sister, Leah (Genesis 29:23).
Lavan also regards the property of others as interchangeable with his own, keeping the entire flock under his control, though Jacob unquestionably deserved compensation. Later, he reluctantly agrees to the separation as an alternative to losing Jacob’s outstanding services.
Finally, so committed is Lavan to the utter blurring of everything that he even considers God to be interchangeable with false deities.
Let the God of Abraham and the gods of Nachor judge between us…
With the stunning consistency that is the hallmark of God’s message to mankind, Lavan’s name perfectly captures his essential flaw. The Hebrew word lavan means white whose essence is made up of a mixture of all colors. Just as raindrops split ordinary white sunlight into its constituent rainbow colors, the reverse is also true; all colors combine to form white. Lavan suffers from moral color blindness.
Erasing the countless nuances of life can lead to great social peril and it is the foundation of Lavan’s wickedness. When your God isn’t special, when family roles aren’t special, and when other people’s property is indistinguishable from yours, life goes wrong. On a large scale, this type of thinking leads to socialism with all its destructive pathologies and the dull, drab, grayness which socialism always produces.
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