When Appeasement, Generosity and Kindness Did Not Work

Jacob tried to please Laban, as Jews have tried to do throughout history.

Professor Gerald Aranoff,

Judaism Prof. G. Aranoff
Prof. G. Aranoff

God Saved Jacob from Laban in this past week’s Torah portion.

We read in the Haftorah that follows the Torah reading:

Then Jacob had to flee to the land of Aram; There Israel served for a wife, For a wife he had to guard [sheep] (Hosea 12:13).

Why did Jacob had to flee to the land of Aram?  Because Esau was planning to kill him, as written: When the words of her older son Esau were reported to Rebekah, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you (Gen. 27:42).

G-d’s promises Jacob Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen. 28-15). 

The Rabbinical view is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob inasmuch as Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge: My commandments, My laws, and My teachings.” (Gen. 26:5) while Esau did not. When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp. (Gen. 25:27). Rashi says: “who stayed in camp, the camp of Shem and the camp of Eber.”

On Mount Sinai God promises us: Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:5-6).

Laban, Rebekah’s brother, was an able warlord who could to protect Jacob from Esau.  The Malbim states On hearing the news of his sister’s son Jacob, Laban ran to greet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and took him into his house. He told Laban all that had happened, and Laban said to him, “You are truly my bone and flesh.” When he had stayed with him a month’s time, (Gen 29:13-14):

The Malbim states here:

“Laban heard that Esau is pursuing Jacob and that Rebekah loves only Jacob, so Laban said: “Don’t be afraid because only you are my bone and flesh and not Esau.  I will love whom Rebekah loves. If Esau comes with sword to do you evil, I’ll go out against him.”

The Malbim says that when Jacob came to Aram and met Rachel, Laban was actually a poor man, having but sheep for Rachel to watch and no servants.  Jacob was planning on a long stay with Laban.

Jacob intended to bring immense wealth and prosperity to Laban, which he did. Jacob did this out of generosity and goodness.

The Malbim says that Laban had trickery in mind when: Laban said, “Better that I give her to you than that I should give her to an outsider. Stay with me”(Gen. 29:19):

“When Laban saw that Jacob plainly conditioned his work only for Rachel and that he would work many years for Rachel, Laban replied with trickery that Jacob doesn’t have to work at all to marry his daughter “Better that I give her to you…” You can settle here and I will support you for you to marry my daughter.  By this Laban removed himself from all conditions.  Actually, then, Jacob watched Laban’s sheep not as a payment for his wives, but only out of generosity and kindness.  When Laban said, “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older (Gen. 29:26) Jacob could not say we had a condition that I would take the younger first, since there were no conditions between them at all.”

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXIV:3: “R. Berekiah and R. Levi said in the name of R. Hama b. R. Hanina: The Holy One, blessed be He, foresaw what Laban would do to Jacob, and so He made the appearance to correspond.”

The Malbim explains that Laban kept changing what the payment to Jacob would be. The aim was that Jacob would get nothing, not the streaked, speckled, spotted, or brown. God kept performing miracles to protect Jacob. Jacob used rods and poplar only to lessen the miracle, to do something, as if it were natural that every time luck seems to go with Jacob.

Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 161a: “R. Abba said: Jacob brought him in a thousand sheep and a thousand lambs and a thousand he-goats extra every month… So that there was a surplus of a thousand in Laban's ewes, and the same in his lambs, and in his goats, until he acquired great wealth, and all through Jacob. But when Jacob came for his recompense, he only obtained ten of each kind, and even this he considered great riches… "

"Observe how Jacob in his simplicity did everything possible to satisfy Laban, and while bringing him all this wealth, he only asked for the spotted and speckled. But for all that Laban consented to this, he would not in the end let him have them, but he took ten of each kind and sent them to him through his sons, saying: “Take these, and whatever they will bear of the sort you said shall be yours.” It is thus written: but your father has cheated me, changing my wages time and again.  God, however, would not let him do me harm (Gen. 31: 7).”

Truly as the Zohar says: “Jacob in his simplicity did everything possible to satisfy Laban.”  Jacob tried appeasement, generosity and kindness.  It did not work.

Laban’s sons tell lies and Laban gets angry: Now he heard the things that Laban’s sons were saying: “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from that which was our father’s he has built up all this wealth.” Jacob also saw that Laban’s manner toward him was not as it had been in the past. (Gen.31: 1-2).

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXIII:12

Laban’s manner toward him was not as it had been in the past. The son of Sira said: A man's heart changes [the look of] his face, both for good and for ill.  Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to him [Jacob]: ' By thy life! your father-in-law does not show you a friendly countenance, yet you sit here!Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers where you were born, and I will be with you.” (Gen. 26:3 ).”

Jacob made a treaty with Laban, in Laban’s words: this mound shall be witness and this pillar shall be witness that I am not to cross to you past this mound, and that you are not to cross to me past this mound and this pillar, with hostile intent (Gen. 31: 52). This is a good treaty.  This is what we need today.

Wherever they go, throughout history, Jews always make the country wealthy and strong, much as Jacob did to Laban.  Laban admits: But Laban said to him, “If you will indulge me, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me on your account.” (Gen. 30:27).

This is much as Jews did to Spain before the Spanish inquisition, and to Germany before Hitler and to Persia before the Muslim takeover and other examples.  Jews helped America become wealthy and strong.  Today, Israel helps America in defense technology such as anti-missile systems. America shows us a friendly countenance.

We have enemies that have hostile intent: Iran and Muslim fanatics that celebrate killing rabbis at prayer.  We pray for God’s help as He saved Jacob from the wicked Laban’s hostile intent.

We could ask, why did Jacob work so hard for 20 years to be kind and generous to the wicked Laban and why did the Lord bless Laban?  I suggest the same answer  to why did Isaac bless Esau and why did Abraham bless Ishmael? So Esau and Ishmael would repent of evil and fear God.  We would then have the complete redemption, may it come speedily in our times.