Sunday, November 14, 2010

Vayeitze - Lavan & Yaakov - "gifts" and "wages"

An interesting difference between Bethuel and Lavan occurs in their relationship to the wedding of their daughters. Eliezer gave Rivkah's families fruits and other gifts from Eretz Canaan but did not really provide a "dowry". Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch points out that the gifts that he gave the family are more on the order of the gifts that a guest will bring his host nowadays when he is invited for a meal. The gold, clothing, and jewelry were given to Rivakah.

When Yaakov wanted to marry Rachel, Lavan demanded a full seven years of work. The only concession that he made was that after he tricked Yaakov by "giving" him Leah, he allowed Yaakov to marry Rachel as well on the promise for another seven years of work. He realized that the work that Yaakov (unlike Lavan) was actually trustworthy and would provid full value for his work. In fact, the previous seven years of work had been so profitable, that it really was worth both daughters.

Another point is that Lavan constantly refers to what he pays Yaakov as a "gift", pretending to be "generous". Notice that after the  first month, Lavan says
ויאמר לבן ליעקב הכי אחי אתה ועבדתני חנם
And Lavan said to Yaakov, "Because you are my close relative (brother) should you (continue to) work for me for free?"
We see that even during this first month he worked so well, that Lavan was afraid that he might lose him if he did not pay him.

Notice that even in this case, Lavan does not speak in terms of Yaakov "earning" the right to marry Rachel, but in terms of "giving" her to him. Additionally, he attempts to minimize the deal by saying
ויאמר לבן טוב תתי לך מתתי אותה לאיש אחר
(I suppose that) it is better to give her to you (a close relative) than some random stranger.
 When Yaakov finished the seven years, he realized that if he did not say anything, Lavan would keep things going as they were and never "give" him Rachel. If Yaakov had delayed, Lavan would have said, "I was just waiting for you to say something" and would have gotten the extra work for "free". As a result, Yaakov has to say
ויאמר יעקב אל לבן הבה את אשתי כי מלאו ימי
Then Yaakov said to Lavan, "Bring my wife for the days are completed"
Yaakov knew that he had to express things in terms of Rachel already being his wife or Lavan would have tried some other trick.

After the second seven years are up, Yaakov knows that he can't just quit and go off on his own. Lavan would raise a fuss. As a result, he has to get Lavan to officially acknowledge that he has completely fulfilled his obligations. As a result, he says,
,תנה לי את נשי ואאת ילדי אשרעבדתי אתך בהן ואלכה כי אתה ידעת את עבדתי אשר עבדתיך
Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you and I will go, for you know the toil that I have served for you.
 Note that the term used is עבודה an not מלאכה. Yaakov has been treated like a slave to "toil" like a slave and not "work" like a free man for an actual purpose (see the earlier post on the difference). At this point (assuming that he has spent 14 years at the Yeshivah of Shem and Ever), Yaakov is 91 years old, with 11 children and is just starting out to support his family. Even here, Lavan tries to denigrate the work that he has done and the worth of that he has accomplished.
נחשתי ויברכני ה בגללך ויאמר נקבה שכרך עלי ואתנה
I have a superstitious feeling that Hashem has blessed me for your sake. And he said, OK tell me what you want to call your "salary" and I will give it to you.
Yaakov has  to go into detail about how this is complete baloney. He has worked hard and everything that Lavan has is the result of Hashem blessing Lavan because of the way that Yaakov has worked, not because of some superstitious idea of magic.
ויאמר מה אתן לך ויאמר לא אתן מאומה אם תעשה לי הדבר הזה אשובה ארעה צאנך אשמר
And he said, what should I give you? And Yaakov said, Don't give me anything, if you will do this, I will shepherd your flock and guard it.

In other words, Yaakov says, you will not be giving me anything. I will take care of your sheep, on the condition that matters are set up in such a way that I automatically get my wages without your having to provide them. You cannot be trusted to pay, so let us set up the deal so that you never get anything going through you.

This is actually the way things are happening nowadays with the State of Israel. All Israel wants is to be allowed to exist and earn its own way in the world. The nations of the world, on the other hand, pretend that Israel should be grateful for even being allowed to survive and that everything that it gets is a "gift".

In the end, Yaakov has to sneak away in order to keep what he has earned over the past decades, and Lavan is only prevented from stealing it by  the direct threat of Hashem. Even than, he pretends that he is being magnanimous. Hashem tells him "Be careful lest you speak either good or evil to him". That is, when the nations of the world pretend to speak "good" to Israel, it is really an attempt to destroy us. Lavan is just like the United Nations, and the so called "Human Rights Commission".

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