It is a well-know Torah principle that, “the actions of the fathers are precedents for the sons.” The Rambam in his introduction to the Book of Exodus explains: “All the events (that the founding fathers of the Israelite Nation experience) are like pictures of things that hint and inform us of all that will occur to them (the Israelite Nation) in the future) in the future.” This rule not only applies to positive actions, but to negative actions as well. Indeed, Rabbi Kahane often pointed out how the conflict between Jacob and Laban that is recounted in parshat Vayetze provides us with a prototype of Jewish-Gentile relations that remain valid as long as the Jews abide in the lands of their dispersion.
First, Jacob is forced to flee his home due to the fact that Esau plots to murder him as vengeance for an alleged wrong, “Behold, Esau your brother comforts himself (by planning) to kill you. And now my son, listen to me and arise, flee to Laban, my brother in Haran.” (Genesis 27:42)
Jacob makes the wearying journey, full of travails and diversions, and finally arrives, penniless, in his new place of residence. He immediately seeks and finds work (as a shepherd) and begins to rebuild his life. He works hard and is scrupulously honest: “These past 20 years that I was with you, your sheep did not miscarriage and the rams of your flock I did not eat. I did not bring you a carcass (of a dead sheep attacked by wild animals) without reimbursing you, and took responsibility (for stolen sheep) whether stolen in the day or night” (ibid 40). For his trouble he is repeatedly cheated and ripped off by his employer Laban, “You have switched my wages (i.e. contract) ten times” (ibid 41). And yet, despite this, his dilligence and faith in G-d pay off: “And the man increased (his wealth) very much (ibid 30:43).
Yes, Jacob became a financial mogul with influential connections and an impressive mass of wealth and possessions to boot. He had “made it”. He had reached the highest echelons of society. What could possibly go wrong? “And he heard the sons of Laban saying, Jacob has taken all that belongs to our father and it is from our father’s possessions that he has glorified himself. And Jacob saw Laban’s expression (when looking at Jacob) and it was different from that way it has always been” (ibid 31:12). The atmosphere grows thick with jealousy. The hatred that accompanies it spawns false accusations and outright lies: “The Jews control the economy! The Jews are feeding off of us! It’s the Jews fault!”
Jacob, an honest and law-abiding citizen of Padan Aram finds himself, once again, in physical danger regardless of his innocent intentions and contributions to society. He is momentarily shocked. What has he done to deserve this? The “old friend” of yesterday is the new enemy of today. He realizes he has overstayed his welcome, but hangs on a little longer. Eventually he hits the road only to begin somewhere else where the same nightmare can be replayed again.
This, then, is the immutable cycle of the Jewish exile. But where does it end? Shall his weary feet never find rest? Is he doomed to a life of perpetual wandering? Or is there a place where he will be able to grow and prosper, a place where his children’s future will be guaranteed; a place by which he has a rightful claim? The Almighty gives the answer, and it is an answer that we would do well to take seriously: “Return to the land of your fathers, your homeland, and (there) I will be with you!” (ibid 31:3)
This familiar pattern repeats itself over and over again. In each new place the hapless Jew “finally” discovered comfort and security. “It can’t happen here” he reassures himself, and blithely goes about his way, all the while stubbornly ignoring the lessons of history, not to mention a Torah commandment…
There is only one way to escape the vicious cycle, and that is the way in which the Torah implores us: “Return to the land of your fathers, your homeland, and (there) I will be with you!”