Tomorrow, our Bat Mitzvah will tell us the heart-rending story of how our father, Jacob, stole his brother Esau’s blessing. Although the Rabbis produce many exculpatory midrashiim, it was a despicable act. Yes, Jacob was pushed by his mother to do the job, none-the-less, it was Jacob’s decision and he broke both his father’s and his brother’s heart.
Yet, some how Jacob becomes an upright man. He is successful and forthright in his business practices and gathers about himself many people. He deeply, if unwisely, loves his children and is wrenched apart by the death of his favorite wife. How did this come about? What led to the transformation of Jacob from a selfish, pampered boy of the tents to the man who deals honestly and can care for his large family? A man who is worthy to be called Israel? I propose that Jacob had an excellent teacher. Jacob was schooled by his father-in-law, Laban.
What! Laban! Laban who switched brides on Jacob? Laban, who after promising Jacob the spotted and striped of his flock as payment, had those very same animals taken off three days’ journey? Laban, the double dealer? Laban, who the traditional Haggadah says was worse than the Pharaoh of the Exodus? Yes, that Laban.
We read in this week’s portion: On hearing the news of his sister’s son Jacob, Laban ran to greet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and took him into his house. He told Laban all that had happened, and Laban said to him, “You are truly my flesh and bone.” (Genesis 29:12-14).
Uncle, Uncle, I tricked my own twin brother out of his blessing and completely fooled my father! Well, well, my boy! You’ll fit in just fine; you got that from my side of the family!
Geh! Have you ever done something and then wondered if it was right because of the people who thought you did the right thing? Laban was an example for Jacob; a bad example. Laban became Jacob’s mirror. As injustice and trickery were practiced on Jacob by his charming father-in-law, Jacob saw himself and did not like what he saw. When Jacob awakes the morning after his wedding with the wrong sister, how could he not remember his father blessing the wrong brother?
Some how, Hillel’s dictum, “what is hateful to you do not do to others” took hold. Not perfectly to be sure, Jacob still made his father’s mistake of choosing favorites; favorite sons, favorite wives, and so on, but Jacob changed. He saw the evil Laban did and learned to not do it. He was forthright with his wives about the need to move back to Canaan. He made a fair deal with his father-in-law about his payment in sheep and goats, and, most importantly, he faced his brother and asked for forgiveness.
Jacob wrested with himself long before he met with an angel.
In our own lives, we can make use of both positive and negative examples and of mirrors.