History teaches us that the Jewish people have survived, despite continued attempts to destroy us.
Appearing in this week’s sedra, Laban is portrayed in the Haggadah as the archetypal anti-Semite. Immediately following the famous words: “In every generation they arise to destroy us…”, the Haggadah instructs us to “Go and study what Laban the Aramean attempted to do to our father Jacob…”
According to the Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Judah Loew), the reason why Laban deserved this moniker was because every subsequent enemy of the Jewish people at least attempted to self-justify their persecution of the Jews.
Esau’s descendants argued they were extracting retribution for the injustices suffered by their ancestor. Pharaoh maintained the Jews were his labour force and therefore he could do with them as he pleased.
By contrast, Laban is portrayed as the prime example of an anti-Semite, because there was no apparent reason for his persecution of his own son-in-law Jacob.
Yet Laban attempted to trick him ‘10 times’ (Genesis 31:7). In a chilling ancient precursor to modern forms of anti-Semitism, his actions were rationally inexplicable. They were based on a singular hatred of the Jews as the quintessential ‘other’.
Despite the odds stacked against him, Jacob not only survived, but emerged with a large family and substantial financial assets. It is that same resilience that continues to this day across the Jewish world – even in those very places where plans were once laid to eradicate it.
Rabbi Yoni Birnbaum, Hadley Wood Jewish Community