Rabbi Label Lam
Welcome To The Middle East
Even after Yaakov specified that his seven years of work were to be for
"Rachel, your daughter, the younger one", Lavan, his too shrewd father
in-law to be, had the nerve to substitute Leah in her stead. Lavan, we know
is the doctor of deception but how does he justify his actions so he can
"stay in business"?
The verse records that when Yaakov protested the day after the wedding,
Lavan answered him, "We don't do that in our place to give the younger
before the older." The Malbim (19th Century Germany) tells us that Lavan
intended to appease Yaakov by telling him that the only way I could give
you Rachel eventually was by handing over Leah first. This way he was able
to squeeze another seven years of indentured servitude from
Yaakov. Perhaps we can detect another technique that may be helpful to
watch out for.
A fellow came to a tailor to have a suit made for a special occasion. When
the suit was ready the man came to the tailor's shop to try it on. To his
horror he discovered that one sleeve was significantly longer than the
other sleeve and one pant leg was a full foot shorter than it need be. The
fellow complained to the tailor. The event was that evening and he needed
The tailor advised the desperate fellow that he should pull his arm up in
such a fashion that the short- sleeved arm sits right at the hand. He
contorted himself as recommended. Then he suggested that he shift his
weight in such a way that the cuff of the all too short pant leg comes
right to the shoe.
He paid for the ill-fitted suit and went off limping down the street. Two
gentlemen were walking behind him and observed how he was ambulating down
the street. One man said to the other, "Look at that unfortunate fellow,
how disfigured and misshapen he is!" To which his colleague replied on a
positive note, "At least he has a good tailor!"
When people attempt to do business with each other there are also many
hidden assumptions that are often not necessary to speak out when the
culture, language, and goals are the same. However when the language of
trust is missing, there is always room for a proliferation of differences
of opinion and deception even when it seems all of the invisible
assumptions are overtly specified.
One of Lavan's main tools of control was to constantly change the rules of
the game. He made Yaakov wrong for assuming that one can take the younger
before the older. He made a public feast and invited all the neighbors to
be certain that local custom would prevail over any private agreement
between the two of them. In that context Yaakov is the offender, the
insensitive one for having suggested or assumed it would be otherwise.
Lavan, with all his convoluted Middle Eastern "logic" made the victim into
the perpetrator. Those observing superficially may perceive that it is
Yaakov who is twisted. The truth is, though, that he has been made to seem
crooked by the ever-changing rules of "the game".
There's an old fable about a frog that was approached by a scorpion looking
for a ride across the river. The frog thought it was too risky because the
scorpion might sting him and kill him. The scorpion convinced the frog
that it was safe based on the logic that if the scorpion would sting him
they would both die. So he agreed and off they went. Half way across the
river the scorpion stung the frog. The frog asked the scorpion why he done
such a foolish thing. Now both would surely die. The scorpion answered,
"This is the Middle East!"
The tragic irony is that Lavan was trying to take advantage of and sabotage
his own family. In the end he alienated himself from one of the greatest
spiritual opportunities ever. Rather than being credited as the father of a
great nation, he goes down in the books as one of history's supreme
It should not surprise us to see this perverse play acted again on the
ever-expanding stage of history. Sitting in a straight jacket of
ill-measured ultimatums we have all been given a scorpion's welcome to the
Text Copyright © 2001 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.