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.
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.
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.