Brothers in Scorn
Volume 3 Issue 7
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Yaakov's first encounter with his future
wife Rachel was significant, encompassing varied emotions, each
of which merits lengthy discussion. Upon greeting her at a well,
Yaakov feeds her sheep, kisses her, cries, and then identifies
himself as the brother of her father. (Genesis 29:11-12)
Such classification needs explanation. Yaakov was not a
brother of Rachel's father Lavan: he was a nephew, the son of
Lavan's sister, Rivka.
Why then did Yaakov refer to himself as a brother of Lavan?
The Talmud in Megilah explains that Lavan's notorious reputation
preceded him. He was nicknamed Lavan HaArami, or Lavan the charlatan.
He was known not only to be avaricious, but to be unscrupulous as
well. Yaakov wanted to lay the ground rules with his future
"If your father will act conniving then I am his brother.
However, if he will act honorably I will respond in kind."
What needs clarification, however, is why begin a marital
relationship on such a note. What precedent is Yaakov setting
with such a powerful declaration?
Rabbi Meir Shapiro (1887-1933) was
a leader of Polish Jewry in the years before World War II. In
addition to being the chief Rabbi of Lublin, building and
maintaining one of the world's largest and most beautiful
yeshivos, Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, he was also one of the first
Orthodox members of the Polish parliament, the Sejm. He was a courageous
leader whose vision and unwavering commitment to Torah values
gained him the respect of Jews and gentiles alike.
During his first weeks as the
leader of the Orthodox Jewish delegation, Rabbi Shapiro was approached
by a Polish parliamentary deputy, Professor Lutoslawski, a known anti-Semite whose
devious legislation constantly deprived minorities of their civil
and economic rights.
Standing in front of a group
parliamentarians in the halls of the Sejm, the depraved deputy began.
"Rabbi," he shouted, a sly smile spreading across his
evil face. "I have a wonderful new way for Jews to make a
living -- they can skin dead dogs."
Without missing a beat Rabbi
Shapiro shot back. "Impossible, their representatives would never
The Professor looked puzzled.
"Whose representatives? The Jews'?"
"No," smiled Rav Meir,
"the dog deputies."
Flustered, the vicious bigot tried
one more. "Well, my dear Rabbi," he continued sarcastically.
"Do you know that on the entrance gate of the city of
Schlesien there is an inscription, 'to Jews and dogs entrance
Rabbi Meir just shrugged his
shoulders. "I guess we will never be able to visit that city together."
Needless to say, nary an
anti-Semitic word was ever pointed in Rabbi Meir's direction again.
Yaakov knew that to initiate his destiny in the confines
of a hostile environment he should proclaim the rules loud and
clear. He would not allow himself to be swayed, duped, or
connived by even the master of deception and ridicule, Lavan the
charlatan. In forging the household that would be the basis for
Jewish pride and eternity, Yaakov had to make it clear to his
future bride that he too could play hardball. He sent a message
of pride and awareness to his descendants. Though this Jew who
sat in the tent would enter his new environment with brotherly
love, if he needed to, he could just as well be a brother in
scorn. Good Shabbos Ó 1996 Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
by Mr. and Mrs. Joel Mandel in memory of Joseph Jungreis
Text Copyright © 1996 by Rabbi
M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Associate Dean of
the Yeshiva of South Shore.
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