When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” — Genesis 29:25
The Torah portion for this week, Vayeitzei, which means “and he left,” is from Genesis 28:10–32:3, and the Haftorah is from Hosea 11:7–12:14.
Most people think that the Exodus story begins when the 12 tribes of Israel made their way to Egypt in order to escape the famine in their land. But the Passover Haggadah, the text used at the Passover meal, tells us that the story begins now, in this week’s Torah reading.
The Haggadah’s account of the Exodus begins this way: “Go forth and learn what Laban the Aramean wanted to do to our father Jacob . . . Laban wanted to uproot everything.” Jewish tradition teaches that Laban was bent on destroying Jacob in a spiritual sense. By keeping Jacob in his home, Laban hoped to erase everything that Jacob had absorbed from Isaac and Abraham. And while he didn’t succeed at that, Laban did manage to manipulate Jacob for over 20 years. Part of Laban’s deception resulted in Jacob marrying Leah instead of his beloved Rachel.
Think about it: Because of Laban’s scheme, Jacob married Leah and together they had children. Those children ended up selling Rachel’s son, Joseph, to merchants who took him to Egypt. Because Joseph was in Egypt, the other brothers settled there when a famine spread through the land of Israel. And the rest, as they say, is history.
From this perspective, we can understand why according to the Haggadah, the slavery in Egypt begins with Laban. He set the wheels in motion that eventually landed the Israelites in Pharaoh’s unkind hands.
Laban is a strange name for someone responsible for so much darkness. In Hebrew, laban means white! And yet, Laban—the person – is one shady character! What’s he doing with a name that makes us think of purity and light?
The Jewish sages explain that for Jacob, the darkness of Laban was also his light. In fact, for Jacob, everything that was dark was also white. Because Jacob understood that everything that happens is from God. The good and the bad – it’s all to bring more light into the world. Yes, Laban’s darkness brought about the Egyptian slavery, but it also led to the light of Israel’s redemption and the receiving of the Torah. Darkness was turned into white. And that’s how Jacob saw it all along.
What do you see when you encounter a difficult person or situation? Do things seem bleak? Does that person seem dark and dreary? Try to shift your perspective and find the light. How can you grow from this situation? What valuable life lessons are being taught? How can this experience propel you forward and lift you higher in your life? Change your perspective, and your whole world will transform, too.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President