The hagaddah implies that the threat from Lavan was even greater than the threat from Esav. The hagaddah does not say that “Esav tried to destroy Yaakov and then he went down to Mitzraim.” It seems that the danger from Lavan was a more significant event in Yaakov’s life than the attack from Esav, why is this?
The possuk says in Divrei Hayamim (1:16):
זִכְרוּ לְעוֹלָם בְּרִיתוֹ דָּבָר צִוָּה לְאֶלֶף דּוֹר. אֲשֶׁר כָּרַת אֶת אַבְרָהָם וּשְׁבוּעָתוֹ לְיִצְחָק. וַיַּעֲמִידֶהָ לְיַעֲקֹב לְחֹק לְיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּרִית עוֹלָם
“Remember forever his promise, the matter which he commanded for a thousand generations. Which he agreed with Avrohom, and his shevuoh to Yitzchok and he set it up for Yaakov as a statute (chok), for Yisroel an eternal covenant.”
The promise that Hashem made to Yaakov to give him Eretz Yisroel is described as a chok whereas for the other avos it is described as a shevuoh or a bris. Why did Hashem particularly promise Eretz Yisroel as a chok to Yaakov?
In Tehillim (81:5) Yaakov is associated with chukim, as the passuk says:
כִּי חֹק לְיִשְׂרָאֵל הוּא מִשְׁפָּט לֵאלֹקֵי יַעֲקֹב
“It is a chok for Yisroel, a mishpat for the G-d of Yaakov.”
מגיד דבריו ליעקב חוקיו ומשפטיו לישראל
“Hashem tells His word to Yaakov, chukim and mishpatim to Yisroel.”
Why is Yaakov the av in whose merit the benei yisroel received chukim and mishpatim?
Rabbi Hutner z”l explains as follows:
Why are chukim important?
Avrohom embodied chesed, Yitzchak embodied gevurah and Yaakov combined chesed and gevuroh with emes as the passuk says:
תתן אמת ליעקב חסד לאברהם
“Give emes to Yaakov and chesed to Avrohom.”
How can a person make peace between chesed and gevuroh? Chesed will always view things one way, whereas gevurah will see things in a different light? What is appropriate from a vantage point of chesed is inappropriate from a vantage point of gevurah, and the other way round.
The possuk says in Mishlei (30:8):
רֵאשׁ וָעֹשֶׁר אַל תִּתֶּן לִי הַטְרִיפֵנִי לֶחֶם חֻקִּי
“Do not give me poverty or wealth, give me my alloted bread.”
The word chok refers to a precise alloted requirement, it is not too much and it is not too little. Similarly, a chok, meaning a statute, defines the limits of each person’s rights. Through this, chukim lead to peace. For example, because people follow traffic rules, cars are able to drive around and not crash into each other. The institutionalisation of chukim is also conducive to peace because if a judge bases his ruling on a defined law, the litigants cannot argue on the law. However, if a judge bases his ruling on personal opinion, then the litigants will argue with the judge.
Just as people differ in their outlooks, every person has different ways in which they can view things. They combine these different approaches together to determine the right way to act. This is the midah of Yaakov who combines the viewpoints of chesed and gevuroh to find the emes. Just as chukim are important in a society to make peace between people, so too the midah of chok is important in a person to determine how the midos of chesed and of being strict should be combined and applied.
This is why chok is the midah of Yaakov Avinu, because it balances the correct application of chesed and gevurah.
Whereas chok sets boundaries that create shalom between chesed and gevuroh, Lavan was the epitome of irbuvya – confusion. He was the opposite of chok and his aim was to destroy the balance between chesed and gevurah.
- When Yaakov complained that he had substituted Leah for Rochel he explained.
וַיֹּאמֶר לָבָן לֹא יֵעָשֶׂה כֵן בִּמְקוֹמֵנוּ לָתֵת הַצְּעִירָה לִפְנֵי הַבְּכִירָה
“And Lavan said [I gave you Leah instead of Rachel because] it is not the done thing here to give the younger before the older.” Here Lavan attacked Yaakov’s midas hachesed with the midas hadin. Yaakov displayed chesed towards Rachel, but Lavan claimed this is incorrect, the midas hadin says that the older one should be given first.
- After Yaakov complained that he had chased him, he said:
הַבָּנוֹת בְּנֹתַי וְהַבָּנִים בָּנַי וְהַצֹּאן צֹאנִי וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה רֹאֶה לִי הוּא וְלִבְנֹתַי מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה לָאֵלֶּה הַיּוֹם אוֹ לִבְנֵיהֶן אֲשֶׁר יָלָדוּ
“The daughters are my daughters and the sons are my sons and everything that you can see belongs to me, why should I harm my daughters or their sons that they have born.”
Lavan said, “They are not your children, they are my children! So why should I harm them.” Lavan claimed that he had such an overwhelming love for his children that really everything belonged to him. Here Lavan attacked Yaakov’s status (which he earned ba’din) with the midas hachesed, my chesed makes this all mine!
By trying to confuse everything, Lavan tried to destroy the balance that Yaakov created between chesed and din. He tried to destroy the foundation of klal yisroel by upsetting the balance between the 12 shevatim, each of whom was different, but through the family structure that Yaakov created, combined to form klal yisroel. It wasn’t a direct attack, like Esav or Pharoh, but it was a systemic attack that would have removed the structure of family balance that Yaakov founded which formed the basis of klal yisroel.
That is why we say ” ארמי אובד אבי” – “Lavan, the Aramean, tried to destroy my father.”