Big Brother is Watching You: Chayei Sara 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you know whether you can trust another person? Do you have the same “litmus test” that you apply to every person you meet? Or are your criteria for trusting someone dependent on circumstance and timing?

We learn from the story of Jacob that Laban, his father-in-law, is not trustworthy. But in this week’s portion, Laban, who also is Rebekah’s sister, is on his best behavior — or so it might appear:

The Pitch: “Now Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban. Laban ran out to the man at the spring—when he saw the nose-ring and the bands on his sister’s arms, and when he heard his sister Rebekah say, ‘Thus the man spoke to me.’ He went up to the man, who was still standing beside the camels at the spring. ‘Come in, O blessed of the LORD,’ he said, ‘why do you remain outside, when I have made ready the house and a place for the camels?’” – Genesis 24:29-31

Swing #1: “Laban said to Eliezer: ‘I have even thrown out my own idols in order to get my hands on some money from your master in return for the hand of my sister Rebecca.’ This is the way of Laban and his ilk. For a few coins of gold, they are willing to give away even their gods.” – Rabbi Joseph Josel Hurwitz

Swing #2: “[Laban’s] hospitality indeed matches that of his sister, except that the impression is unmistakably conveyed that it was not entirely disinterested, that it was, in fact, motivated by greed. Scripture is here anticipating the character of Laban as it reveals itself later in his relations with Jacob. Otherwise, the conduct of the brother in our story is perfectly straightforward and honorable. But why should he have played such a dominant role? … This conspicuous place accorded to Laban can now be explained in the light of the Nuzi archives. It is clear that the institution of fratriarchy, or authority of a brother, existed in Hurrian society. It gave one brother jurisdiction over his brothers and sisters. … He must have been the fratriarch and, as such, was simply exercising his proper functions.” – Nahum Sarna, Understanding Genesis

Swing #3: “My brother Laban comes out after me because I have been gone so long. The dude asks if he can stay with us, and when my brother sees all the gold, he is more than happy to oblige. I love my brother but what was he thinking inviting this completely bonkers individual, who probably stole all this loot and is being chased down by a gang of murderous thugs, into our home? This is a … thing about men: They are easily distracted by shiny objects.” – Rebecca Dana, from Unscrolled: 54 Writers and Artists Wrestle With the Torah, edited by Roger Bennett

Late-Inning Questions: How does Laban’s hospitable greeting to Abraham’s servant compare to similar behavior by Abraham and Lot in previous chapters? Even though Laban does not trick Abraham’s servant, are there aspects of his behavior that hint at future mischief? Why does deceptive evil hurt so much more than “up-front” evil?

The Big Inning at the End: It’s always sad when anyone dies young, but sometimes  – fairly or unfairly – it can hit home more when it’s someone in the public eye with whom you have something in common. Roy Halladay is just a few months younger than me, and he and I both grew up in Denver. I never met him, but I followed his great pitching career with pride. Halladay died in a plane crash Tuesday. Condolences to his family and to all who knew and loved him.

Shabbat Shalom!