Arami Oved Avi
- Rabbi Zvi Shiloni
- Sep 2, 2009
"Then you shall call out and say before Hashem: 'Arami oved avi - an Aramean would have destroyed my father (Yaakov).'" (ibid. 5). Of all the tribulations and suffering we have endured over the four millennia, the one to be mentioned first and foremost was ... LAVAN! The father-in-law who overworked and underpaid our grandfather! How Jewish!!
My great-grandfather HaRav Tzvi Hirsch Dachowitz zt"l explains that what Lavan tried to do was indeed worse than anyone else (Esav, Haman, Hitler, you name it!) How so?
In those days, when physical strength was the key to success, Lavan was really in dire straits. Having no sons and a small flock of sheep that even his little daughter was capable of shepherding, he really was a man of little significance. Until Yaakov came on the scene ... with one finger (literally) he lifted the stone that covered the wellspring to Lavan's fortune. Very soon Lavan became a wealthy man as he himself attributed his success to Yaakov: "I have learned by divination that the L-rd has blessed me on your account" (Bereishit 30:27).
And then, like a bolt of lightning Lavan hears the news from Yaakov: "give me leave to go back to my homeland" (ibid. 25). This is the end! I'm finished! What will I do now?! I'll go back to being a pauper again!
Immediately Lavan devises a plan to keep Yaakov at his side. He makes him an offer he cannot refuse, only to get him to stay just a few more years. While Yaakov is out tending the sheep, Lavan is at home playing and raising his grandchildren, alienating them from their father, explaining to them how Yaakov is only a simple shepherd, nothing extraordinary and that they would do well staying with their grandfather the wealthy, powerful Lavan. Lavan buys more and more time by consistently changing the terms of his agreement with Yaakov, and Yaakov watches helplessly as his children become more and more estranged from him and from his values.
Until Yaakov is finally fed up! One night he takes his wives and children and runs away. Lavan runs after him, catches up with him and a heated debate ensues. Yaakov is not ashamed to tell Lavan: "I was afraid because I thought you would take your daughters from me by force." (Bereishit 31:31). Lavan is so shocked that Yaakov was aware of his plan that he walks away, searching the tents "for his god". When he returns and is received by Yaakov who declares: "Had not the G-d of my fathers, been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed" (ibid. 42). He finally erupts and reveals everything: "The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks, all that you see is mine!" Finally we get a glimpse of that devious plan that was intended to turn our people into a people with the values and morals of Lavan himself.
When we arrive at the Beit HaMikdash, the first thing we must recognize is that all of our success is owed to our parents and grandparents who sacrificed so much to raise us as Jews. "Arami oved avi": If our father had not had the foresight, and the spiritual fortitude, we today would have been part of his flock, his children, and his daughters and would not have had the great merit of being who we are today!