Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lavan: daft or dense?

On another mailing list, this question was asked, in terms of why didn't Lavan listen when God spoke to him and told him not to interfere with Yaakov.

A brief response: last week, our LOR spoke about Yitzchak, whose entire experience of God was through the middah of din, strict judgment. He looked into the void of God-directed death at the Akeidah, and never re-emerged. From then on, his life was driven by fear, not love of God. This led to his favoring Eisav. Eisav brought him "tzayid befiv" - hunted food in his mouth. The hunting was an expression of a din-oriented personality, but it was tempered by being channeled into honor of one's parents. He saw Eisav living life under Yitzchak's Din-God, while he couldn't relate at all to Yaakov the simple man who lived in tents. The only way to redirect the covenant with God back onto a more balanced path was through intelligence, cleverness, guile.

Which leads me to wonder. If we regard Lavan as daft or dense for not listening to God's command, what about Yitzchak, his direct contemporary? God speaks to Yitzchak once, and only once, and gives him one command: Fear not. Yet Yitzchak's whole relationship to God was through fear. We speak of Pachad Yitzchak as his defining characteristic. And he continues to live his life in fear, not acting, but being acted upon, and reacting. Yitzchak didn't listen to God any more than Lavan did. Yet Yitzchak gets a renewal of the covenant, and carries it on to the next generation. Yitzchak was not full of guile, rather, quite direct.

So we have Yitzchak not listening to God's single command, just like Lavan. We have Yaakov using guile just like Lavan to counteract all kinds of perceived threats - against his father fearing loss of his rightful heritage; against Lavan fearing loss of his family and wages; finally against Eisav fearing loss of his family and personal safety. Yaakov uses guile to counteract fear - which has long been our pattern, starting with Avraham in Egypt in Lech Lecha.

Lavan acts with guile, and doesn't listen to God, and is regarded as a terrible moral pariah. Is it only because he was an idolator, while Our Avos were not? Is it only that he played for the wrong team, rather than any inherent immorality? In which case, why is Lavan held up as such an immoral model?

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