Posts tagged " Laban "

Taste the Difference?

November 30th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

One of the signs of a COVID infection is a loss of smell and taste. Compared to other complications of disease this may be minor, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the impact. Possibly, only once we function without smell and taste, do we fully appreciate God’s blessing to us in providing us with food for our nutrition rather than a daily vitamin tablet. The variety, distinctions and diversity of our food add immeasurably to our pleasure in life.   

Being unable to see distinctions in more important areas than smell and taste makes unhealthy moral decisions more likely.

Jacob’s father-in-law, Lavan, initially seems to be an innocuous Biblical character, yet, during the annual Passover Seder, Jews label him as more wicked than Pharaoh.

What is Lavan’s background?  Abraham had two brothers, Nachor and Haran (Genesis 11:26).

Nachor had a son, Betuel (Genesis 22:22),  who had two children, Rebecca and Lavan (Genesis 28:5).

As we first 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).

Once again blurring his relationship with his father, Lavan takes the lead in authorizing his sister’s marriage.

And Lavan and Betuel answered and they he said, “This matter is from God.”
(Genesis 24:50)

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.

ויען    ויענו
and he answered  and they answered

            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.”
(Genesis 29:5)

It seems that it was universally known that Lavan identified himself as interchangeable with his father.

Lavan also treats 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…
(Genesis 31:53)

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.

Studying the Torah through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom trains us to notice the nuances, spot the subtleties and dig beneath the surface. Our library packs provide hours of stimulating study via books, audio CDs and DVDs. As a holiday bonus, get a copy of America’s Real War for free along with your library pack before we increase the price to reflect the addition. These packs make wonderful gifts at this time of year and also provide a stepping stone to making next year one of growth in all areas of your life.

*In Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s recommended Bible: p. 66, 2nd line from the bottom, 3rd word from the left.

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Often Charming – Always Dangerous

April 20th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

Back in the 1970s, Jim Davis, a good and deeply religious man, felt he could safely go into business with his flamboyant roommate at Baylor University, Allen Stanford.  In early 2009 Stanford Financial collapsed in scandal.  Today, Davis is a ruined man.

 

A long time ago, I entered into a business transaction with someone whose moral flexibility included listing his dog as a shareholder in his company.  While I didn’t know that fact when we worked together, there were clues to his character that I should have noticed. Happily we parted ways before his little empire fell apart and he was incarcerated.  However, I did lose a lot of money and worse than that I felt incredibly stupid because I had long since been taught the transcendent truth of this Torah tip:

 

You will seldom emerge unscathed after involving yourself with someone whose values do not match yours.

 

Consider this verse:

 

And when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of Lavan,

his mother's brother, and the sheep of Lavan, his mother's brother,

and Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well's mouth,

and watered the sheep of Lavan, his mother's brother.

(Genesis 29:10)

 

A look at Genesis 24:29 shows that the family relationship reiterated above is correct.  That doesn’t explain why we needed to be told this three times.

 

The question intensifies as we watch what happened a few minutes later when Jacob met Rachel, the daughter of Lavan (his mother’s brother!)

 

And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's brother,

and that he was Rebecca's son and she ran and told her father.

(Genesis 29:12)

 

So, after Scripture firmly establishes in verse 10 that Jacob was Rachel’s first cousin, Jacob now lies to Rachel saying he is her uncle!  Then he immediately trips himself up with a contradictory statement when truthfully adds that he is Rebecca’s son.

 

At this point we have only three possible explanations for both the triple recurrence of “his mother’s brother” and Jacob’s seeming lie.

 

(i)   The Torah was written for people with really, really, bad memories.

(ii)  The Torah’s editor did an extremely sloppy job.

(iii) Every letter in the Torah, let alone every phrase, can reveal deep and valuable insights into how the world REALLY works.

 

 

In the context of verse 10 which emphasized the real relationships, it is not plausible that Jacob is merely discussing blood relationships.  He is discussing something far more important, namely morality, character and integrity.

 

Ancient Jewish wisdom fills in the pieces and provides practical life tools along the way.  You see, not detailed in the written text is Jacob’s immediate proposal of marriage to Rachel.  (For heaven’s sake, he’d kissed her already in verse 11!) 

 

Rachel responded by explaining that her father, Lavan, was a notorious rogue who would endeavor to cheat Jacob in any marriage negotiations. 

 

Jacob attempted to reassure Rachel by saying, “Hey, I’m capable of being your father’s brother.  I’ll be as canny as if I was his brother.  However, never fear, deep down I am the son of the righteous Rebecca.”

 

And to paraphrase the sad closing words of ancient Jewish wisdom’s explanation—Lavan succeeded in cheating Jacob into 14 years of hard work anyway.  This is not merely a poignant afterthought—it is the very point of the entire story:

 

When you become involved with someone possessing fewer moral scruples than you, you will lose.  No matter how clever you think you are, any interaction – business, social or romantic – with someone whose moral threshold is lower than yours will eventually bring pain.

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