Vayetze–An Uneasy Truce

Therefore he named the pillar Mizpah, for he said, “The LORD watch between you and me,  when we are absent one from the other.” (Gen 31:49)

When Laban overtakes Jacob, he tells him, “It is in my power to do you harm; but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Take heed that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.'” (Gen 31:29)  Fear of God transforms a violent reprisal into an uneasy truce.

Laban concedes nothing in his words to Jacob: as far as he is concerned “the daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine.”  At the same time, he is restrained not only by the divine warning, but by family feeling, if not for Jacob, at least for his daughters and grandchildren:  “Yet what can I do this day to these my daughters, or to their children whom they have borne?” (Gen 31:43)

Instead, Jacob and Laban raise up a pillar and a mound as a boundary marker and as a “witness” against misconduct.  We are reminded of the overlap of the personal and the political in these patriarchal narratives when Laban (= Aram, Syria) and Jacob (= Israel) name the mound in Aramaic and Hebrew respectively.  (Gen 31:47)

As Shlomo Carlebach said (paraphrasing the Maharal of Prague), “Great is peace, because if even the most rotten people learned to get along, God would be with them, because they were peaceful.”

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