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A Pesach Dvar Torah - Torah Thoughts on the Passover Hagadah
Worse Than Pharoah!
Who was worse than Pharaoh? I'm referring to the biblical cast of characters dealt with by the Hagadah. There is one character we know from the Bible who is singled out by the Hagadah as being worse than Pharaoh! Give up? Know it already? Yes, it's Laban.
And worse than Pharaoh?
Laban was Jacob's uncle. Jacob had fled to him when his brother Esav wanted to kill him. Laban promised Jacob his daughter as a bride, then misled him as to which daughter, and proceeded to take advantage of him for the better part of 22 years.
So he wasn't very nice, but worse than Pharaoh? According to the Hagadah, yes. Pharaoh only sought to destroy the males. Laban sought to, "uproot everything." You may ask, why don't we have a holiday about him? And, wait a second! I looked in the Bible and didn't see anywhere that Laban tried to kill everybody! What's going on here?
The answer may be hidden in their names. Pharaoh comes from the Hebrew root that means "to uncover". Laban in Hebrew means, "white." Pharaoh's enmity to the Israelites was clear. He enslaved them, he oppressed them, he had their male children thrown into the river. We knew where we stood with Pharaoh.
But Laban acted in a "white" manner. White is the color of purity, of innocence. Laban made sure that his public image was one of a kind person, a fair person. He wished no harm to Jacob and his family, at least publicly. Thus, he hoped that the family of Israel would come to trust him. Then he could slowly destroy them. Oh, not physically! Spiritually.
Laban knew that the destiny of the Israelites depended on their faithfulness to God. He knew that the patriarchs had been granted the blessing of "everything," as is written, "And God blessed Abraham with everything." That was because Abraham was faithful to God, and rejected the idolatry of his time. Laban was a devout idolater. He was threatened by the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, because it would have held him to a higher standard of morals. In idolatry, you make the gods, you make the rules. A good system for a corrupt businessman like Laban. Jacobs's spiritual threat was existential for him.
That is what it means when it says, "Laban sought to uproot everything." He sought to uproot faith, which is the root of everything. We don't have a holiday for this struggle, because it yet rages on. The Hagadah introduces this statement with the phrase, "go forth and see." The spiritual threats to the Jewish people are as strong, if not stronger, than ever. By celebrating Passover, we reaffirm our Jewish identity and strike a strong blow against those who would destroy us, in any way shape or form.
Happy and healthy Passover!