Laban (Hebrew: לָבָן, Modern: Lavan, Tiberian: Lāḇān, "White") is a figure in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible. He was the brother of Rebekah, who married Isaac and bore Jacob. Laban welcomed his nephew as a young man, and set him the stipulation of seven years' labour before he permitted him to marry his daughter Rachel. Laban tricked Jacob into marrying his elder daughter Leah instead. Jacob then took both women as wives.
Laban and his family were described as dwelling in Paddan Aram, in Mesopotamia. Though the biblical text itself does not attest to this, Rabbinic sources also identify him as the father of Bilhah and Zilpah, the two concubines with whom Jacob also has children (Midrash Raba, Gen 24)
Laban first appears in the Hebrew Bible in Genesis 24:29–60 as the grown spokesman for his father Bethuel's house; he was impressed by the gold jewelry given to his sister on behalf of Isaac, and played a key part in arranging their marriage. Twenty years later, Laban's nephew Jacob was born to Isaac and Rebekah.
When grown, Jacob comes to work for Laban. The biblical narrative provides a framework for dating these events: Jacob begat Joseph 14 years after his flight to Laban; Joseph entered Pharaoh's service at age 30; and from that point, after seven years of plenty and two years of famine, Jacob met Pharaoh and stated his age as 130. Subtracting yields an age of 77 (Jacob at his flight to Laban). Laban was more than 30 years older than Jacob, and employed him for 20 years.
Laban promised his younger daughter Rachel to Jacob in return for seven years' service, only to trick him into marrying his elder daughter Leah instead. Jacob then served another seven years in exchange for the right to marry his choice, Rachel, as well (Genesis 29). Laban's flocks and fortunes increased under Jacob's skilled care, but there was much further trickery between them. Six years after his promised service has ended, Jacob, having prospered largely by proving more cunning than his father-in-law, finally left. Laban pursued him, but they eventually parted on good terms (Genesis 31).
Laban can be seen as symbolizing those whose concern for the welfare of their immediate family, nominally a virtue, is taken to the point where it has lasting negative ramifications. Laban's urge to ensure his older daughter not be left unmarried can be interpreted as leading to the Exile in Egypt; his anxiety over seeing his son-in-law throw away his family's comfortable position in Aram in search of a risky new beginning back in Canaan leads him to oppose the return of the Children of Israel to the Promised Land. His name can also be seen as symbolic in this matter: it means "white", the visual representation of purity, without visible stain, symbolizing those without apparent evil motives whose actions nevertheless result in undesirable outcomes.
Laban and PassoverEdit
Laban is referenced significantly in the Passover Haggadah, in the context of the answer to the traditional child's question, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" The prescribed answer begins with a quote from Deuteronomy 26:5: "arami oved avi": normally translated as "a wandering Aramean was my father", alluding either to Abram or Jacob, but here interpreted unusually as "ibbed Arami et-avi", "an Aramean destroyed my father", as made clear by the rabbinical exegesis read in the Seder:
- Come and learn what Laban the Aramean sought to do our father Jacob. For Pharaoh issued his edict against only the males, but Laban sought to uproot all, as it is said, 'An Aramean would have destroyed my father, and he went down to Egypt and he became there a nation, great, mighty and populous.'
There may also be a play on words here, using arami in two senses – as both arami, "an Aramean", and rama′i, "a deceiver", since Laban cheated Jacob (Genesis Rabbah 70:19). In this interpretation, arami personifies the Israelite peoples’ bitter enemy.
The question of what the connection is between the apparently disjoint tales of Laban and Pharaoh is interpreted in several ways by rabbinical authorities.
Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer explains in his Hukkat HaPesach that Laban was, in fact, the primum mobile of the entire Exile and Exodus saga. Rachel was Jacob's divinely intended wife and could hypothetically have given birth to Joseph as Jacob's firstborn with rights of primogeniture. In this counterfactual, Jacob's favoring Joseph's succession as the leader of the fledgling nation of Israel would have been seen as perfectly normal and fitting, given the customs of the time. No older brothers would have felt cheated and jealous, and Joseph would not have been sold into slavery. Thus, there would have been no need for Jacob's family to be sent to Egypt to unite with Joseph.
In actuality, Laban married Jacob to Leah first, causing Leah's sons to precede Joseph in birth order, so that they felt justifiably outraged when their father seemed to violate societal norms by treating his second-youngest son as his heir, in preference to his older sons' natural and legal rights. In this way, Laban can be seen as "seeking to uproot all", by attempting to sever the family tree of the Patriarchs between Jacob and Joseph before the Children of Israel could become more than a single small family.
Devora Steinmetz, Assistant Professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, says that the story of Jacob and Laban also resonates with the covenant with Abraham, more frequently interpreted as applying to the Exodus: "your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them and they shall afflict them ... Afterward they shall come out with great wealth" (Genesis 15:13–16). Jacob lived in the strange land of Aram, served Laban, and was afflicted by him; then he left with great wealth and returned to the Promised Land. The story thus serves to reinforce one of the central messages of the Passover Haggadah; that the Old Testament cycle of exile, persecution and return recurs again and again, and links the observant Jew in the Diaspora to the Land of Israel.
In Rabbinical Literature:Edit
Laban is identified by the Rabbis with Beor, Balaam's father, and with Chushan-rishathaim (Judges iii. 8), the last name being interpreted as "perpetrator of two evils" (Sanh. 105a; comp. Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Num. xxii. 5). R. Joshua b. Levi, however, identifies Laban with Kemuel (Gen. xxii. 21), the latter name being interpreted as, "who stood up against God's people" (; Gen. R. lvii. 4). The name "Laban" is interpreted as "glowing with wickedness" (ib. lx. 8), and the surname "Arammi" (= "the Aramean"; see Laban, Biblical Data) as an anagram of "ramma'ah" (= "impostor"; ib. lxx. 17). Laban is called also "the master of impostors" (ib. lxxv. 6). When he saw the bracelets on Rebekah's arms (Gen. xxiv. 30) he determined to kill Eliezer; but the latter, divining his intention, pronounced the Sacred Name, by which he caused camels to remain suspended in the air above the well. This and Eliezer's resemblance to Abraham made Laban believe that Eliezer was Abraham. Laban therefore invited him to enter the house (Midr. Abkir, in Yalḳ., Gen. 109; comp. Midr. Hagadah on Gen. xxiv. 23).
Laban and Jacob.
Laban's answering before his father shows that he was impudent (Leḳaḥ Ṭob to Gen. xxiv. 50). His promptness in meeting Jacob (Gen. xxix. 13) was due to his eagerness for wealth; for he thought that if Eliezer, a servant of Abraham, brought with him ten camels loaded with the goods of his master, Jacob, being Abraham's grandson, would certainly bring still greater riches. He consequently ran to meet Jacob, and, seeing the latter without camels, thought that perhaps he had gems about his person or in his mouth. He therefore hugged and kissed him (Gen. R. lxx. 13; comp. Midr. Hagadah, l.c.). Disappointed at not finding anything valuable, Laban said to Jacob: "I had the intention to make thee my king; but, as thou possessest nothing, thou art nothing more than a simple relative of mine" (Gen. R. l.c.; comp. Gen. xxix. 14).
Before Jacob's arrival Laban's flocks were scanty, as they had always decreased through pestilence (Pirḳe R.El. xxxvi.). When Jacob had completed his seven years of service, Laban assembled his countrymen and consulted them as to the best means to retain him; "for," said he, "ye know that formerly we had a scarcity of water, and it is only through this righteous man that we are now blessed with an abundance of it." His countrymen advised him to substitute Leah for Rachel (Targ. pseudo-Jonathan and Yerushalmi to Gen. xxix. 22; Gen. R. lxx. 17). Laban took pledges of his countrymen that they would not divulge his design, and then pawned the pledges for wine which he served to their owners, who were his guests. Laban took the precaution to extinguish the light in the banqueting-room, lest Jacob should at once see that it was Leah. On Jacob inquiring the reason, Laban answered that it was a custom of his country. The guests, drunk with wine, sang "ha Lia" (= "she is Leah"); but Jacob did not understand the real meaning of the exclamation (Gen. R. l.c.; "Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Wayeẓe"). According to Pirḳe R. El. (l.c.), Bilhah and Zilpah were daughters of Laban by his concubines (comp. Gen. R. lxxiv. 11).
Having been informed of Jacob's flight, Laban assembled, besides his family, all the strong men of his city, with whom he pursued Jacob. Michael then drew his sword and ran after Laban to kill him, but only warned him not to speak to Jacob either good or evil (Pirḳe R. El. l.c.). The question which suggests itself, why, if Laban had sons (Gen. xxx. 35, xxxi. 1), did he send Rachel to keep his flocks (ib. xxix. 7-10), is explained in the Midrash by the fact that he had no sons before Jacob's arrival, and that it was because of his association with the latter that God gave him sons (Gen. R. lxx. 17; Num. R. xx. 16). According to the "Sefer ha-Yashar" (l.c.), Laban had three sons, Beor (comp. Num. R. l.c.), Alub, and Murash, whom his wife Adinah bore. It was Beor, according to the same authority, who was sent by his father to inform Esau of Jacob's departure and to urge him to pursue his brother (see Jacob). 
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