Who is the worst villain in the Torah? If you had to choose only one Biblical antagonist as the paradigm of the antisemite who wanted to completely destroy the Jews, who would you pick?
Pharoah? Nimrod? Esav? Amalek? Bilaam? Balak? Og?
In the Passover Hagadah we begin the retelling of our national history with the verse, “Arami Oved Avi” which means an Aramean tried to destroy my father. Rashi and the Haggadah understand this verse to be talking about Lavan who tried to destroy Yaakov in this week’s parshah.
Why Lavan? Of course he was no friend to Yaakov, but of all of the aforementioned Biblical villains he appears to be the least hostile and threatening.
Perhaps the Torah is pointing to a particular tactic that Lavan employed in his effort to destroy Yaakov, a tactic so insidious that it attacks our very foundation in a way that the other enemies did not.
Yaakov first senses Lavan’s hostility from overhearing some chatter from Lavan’s sons. They say, “Yaakov has taken all that belongs to our father and from that which belongs to our father he has amassed all of his wealth.”
This was not true. Yaakov worked on commission. As we see later he earned his wealth fairly. But somehow Lavan’s son’s felt that anything that Yaakov earned was earned illegitimately.
Yaakov confides in his wives, Lavan’s daughters, and says it’s time to flee. They tell Yaakov that he won’t get any argument from them. They too have felt that to their father they were nothing more than chattel. Lavan had no regard for them.
So Yaakov flees. he is pursued and caught by Lavan. Yaakov confronts Lavan. Yaakov exclaims, if there is anything you can find, even one penny, in my possession that you contend that I took illegally, show it to me now.
Lavan of course cannot produce anything. Yaakov gives a long speech about how hard he worked faithfully for twenty years and how Lavan tried to cheat Yaakov a hundred times, and Yaakov never acted anything but honestly, and everything that Yaakov earned was earned fair and square.
When Lavan responds to Yaakov it is as if he did not hear a single word. He says, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flock is my flock, and everything that you see is mine.”
In all three instances, Lavan seeks at all times and in all circumstances to deny any legitimacy to Yaakov. Yaakov has no rights. There is nothing that Yaakov can possibly do right, because everything that he has is somehow stolen, and Yaakov’s very existence is an act of injustice that Yaakov is always guilty for.
This tactic of illegitimacy is something that the Jewish people and the modern state of Israel have known all too well. In our historical episodes of physical persecution, our enemies began with this tactic first.
This past week, Secretary of state John Kerry made a horrific statement hat smacks of this tactic.
He said that the recent murderous terror attacks in France were somehow different from the Charlie Hebdo killings earlier this year. The Charlie Hebdo attack was somehow provoked, but these attacks were somehow unprovoked.
When we analyze this thinking we see very dangerous conclusions. Among them it blames the victims of the Charile Hebdo attack. Kerry’s statement implies that their exercising of their freedom of speech brought the killing on themselves.
Also, we must ask ourselves, which category would Kerry place the terrorist attacks shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack in the Jewish deli in France? Were those also somehow provoked? Was the very fact that the Jews were being Jews enough to provoke radical Muslim killing?
More so, Kerry demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about the enemy that the civilized world faces today.
Kerry believes that attacks on Israel are provoked and are even justified. He believes that the Israelis are occupiers and the Arabs have every right to be angry and to kill Jews. The Jewish presence in Israel is provocative to the Arabs. The French, by contrast, have every right to be in France. This act is completely unprovoked.
What he fails to understand is that there is no difference to the radical Muslims between Jews in Hevron, Jews in tel Aviv, or French people in France. This is an ideology that does not only want to conquer the territories in Israel. This is an ideology that wants to conquer the entire world. French sovereignty in France is just as offensive as Jewish sovereignty in Hevron. There is no difference.
And just as there should be no justification for violence against those who exercise free speech, there should be no justification for violence against innocence in a deli, in a concert hall, or living in historic Jewish lands. There is no distinction between any of these acts of terror. But John Kerry does not see it that way. He thinks there is a distinction and that tells us a great deal about him.
He also demonstrates that he has bought into the tactic of the Jewish enemies. Jews and Israel are illegitimate. The state of Israel is illegitimate, and the lives of Jews do not matter the way that other lives do.
This is what the enemies of the Jews, starting with Lavan try to do. When they succeed, it is all the more easy to destroy us physically.
Our job is to make sure that never happens. We must never back down. We must always assert our rights. Israel belongs to the Jewish people. Our cause is just and those who wish to destroy us, they are the evil ones. Justice is on our side and we must never doubt that even for a minute, because that is what our enemies want. When we begin to doubt the justice of our cause, when we doubt our own legitimacy, that is when the enemy begins to win.
Yaakov never doubted the justice of his case, and we, his ancestors, must never as well.
Just as God was with Yaakov, may the God of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov be with us. May he see our oppression and our toil, and may he bring justice and peace to Israel and to the world.