Vayetze–Stealing the Heart

In Gen 29, Jacob arrives Syria where he marries first Leah and then Rachel, the daughters of his uncle Laban.   Laban takes advantage of Jacob’s service; finally, after twenty years, Jacob has had enough.

And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee.  (Gen 31:20)

The word “deceive” here means literally to “steal” (ganav) the heart,” which in this case means not the heart but the head, the understanding, the wits.   “In heading for Canaan with his wives, children, and flocks, Jacob is actually taking what is rightfully his, but he has good reason to fear that the grasping Laban will renege on their agreement, and so he feels compelled to flee in stealth, making off not with Laban’s property but with his ‘heart.'” (Alter)

I’ve recently been thinking about a passage from Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner: “Every other sin is a variation of theft….When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth.”

Perhaps Laban has forfeited his right to the truth in this matter.  Yet (as a folk proverb quoted in the Talmud has it) “whoever steals from a thief has a taste of theft.”  Indeed, in Jacob’s case, there is more than a taste, since, unbeknownst to him, his wife Rachel has stolen (again, ganav) the gods of her father’s household.

In any event, the secret flight doesn’t work.  Laban catches up with Jacob.   The ensuing dialogue boils over with mutual suspicion and distrust.

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