Resist the Laban herd mentality

  • ParshaRabbiPink
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by Rabbi Pini Pink, Chabad of Greenstone | Nov 15, 2018

I’m often challenged as a rabbi with the question: what is the Torah’s place in modern day society? Does Judaism truly have something to say about every aspect of our life, or are the volumes of the Torah better left on the bookshelves in our libraries?

More than 3 000 years ago, our forefather Jacob was on the run. His brother Esau had tried to kill him, so he had taken shelter with his uncle Laban, tending his crops, marrying his daughters, and earning himself a comfortable living.

After continual scheming by Laban, Jacob decided it was time to go home, and he took his family and cattle and headed out for the Holy Land. Laban pursued Jacob, and only thanks to G-dly intervention was Jacob’s life saved.

During their argument, Laban challenged Jacob on leaving without his permission: “These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle.” (Genesis 31:43)

What was Laban saying? He had literally sold his daughters to Jacob, demanding that he work 14 years for the privilege of marrying them. Jacob had worked another seven hard years for his herds of cattle. What demands could Laban have of him?

Laban was arguing a finer point. “The children belong to me,” said Laban. “You, Jacob, are fine the way you are - a man raised in the old country whose natural habitat is the tents of Torah learning and prayer. But what do you want of the children? They belong to another generation, another world. They must be raised in the spirit of the times, equipped to earn a living, and a place in society. Do you truly expect them to negotiate modern life with nothing but your ancient books? You are a good man, Jacob, but leave the children to me ...

“The cattle are my cattle, Jacob. I wouldn’t dream of interfering with your spiritual life, rabbi - I'll be the first to admit that I’m no authority on religion. By all means, consult your sacred books on how to keep the Shabbat or how to light your Chanukah candles. But when it comes to business affairs, do you think that the stock market conforms to the standards of the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law)? That you can retain both your competitive edge, and your Talmudic ethics? You’ll be eaten alive out there. Reserve your piety for the synagogue and study hall, but do yourself a favour - leave the cattle to me, okay?”

Jacob refuted Laban then, as we must refute the Laban inside us now. Judaism has something to say about every aspect of our lives, and must be as relevant to us as it was to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob thousands of years ago.


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