וַיַּרְא יַעֲקֹב אֶת־פְּנֵי לָבָן וְהִנֵּה אֵינֶנּוּ עִמּוֹ כִּתְמוֹל שִׁלְשׁוֹם, “And Yaacov saw the face of Lavan and, behold, it wasn’t as it appeared to him yesterday or the day before (Bereishit 31:2)”. This immediately follows the rather difficult section where Yaakov acquires his wealth by what appears to be magical tricks, inducing Lavan’s herds to give birth to the highly unusual brown, striped and spotted sheep that Yaakov claims as his wages.
Rabbi Shloime Twerski zt”l offered an unexpected interpretation of that verse. While the surface meaning seems to be that Lavan has changed his attitude towards Yaakov, no longer seeing him the easily exploitable son-in-law, thus warning Yaakov that it’s time to clear out of an increasingly unfriendly environment, Rabbi Twerski offers the explanation that after all the years when Lavan appeared to Yaakov as a dishonest trickster, at this moment Lavan no longer seems to be so far beyond acceptable rules of conduct.
Lavan, obviously, has not changed, but, rather, Yaakov sees himself on the verge of a major change. He is just a half-step away from jettisoning his own values and honor and adopting Lavan’s. “Go along to get along” has, finally, become a very attractive beacon.
Reaching into his own depths of faith and into the earlier training he received in his fathers’ values, he realizes that the moment has come to immediately leave what has suddenly become a too-comfortable but nonetheless corrupt environment. Just as we’re taught, a few generations later, that had Yisrael not left Egypt when they did, they would have descended to the lowest level of depravity and would no longer have been able to escape, had Yaakov not immediately left Lavan’s orbit he would have, in essence, become Lavan and the Jewish people would never have been.
מעשה אבות סימן לבנים (Ma’ase Avot Siman l’Banim), the experiences of our ancestors (as described in the Torah) are a warning to us, their descendants. So many of our people, taken in by latter-day Lavan-style tricksters, have adopted the words, values and actions of our greatest enemies, taking on the hatred of Israel as if it were a virtue. Although we’re probably in the very best and apparently most secure situation the Jewish People have been in since the destruction of the Holy Temple by Rome and our exile throughout the world two thousand years ago, we’re also only that half-step of becoming our own worst enemy.
Yaakov had the courage and wisdom to reject Lavan. May we, in our generation, follow his example.