Midrash Tanchuma Veyetzei: The wall that stretched from Lavan to Bilam

As Lavan and Yakov were parting after a 20-year contentious relationship they decided to make a non-aggression pact. We are familiar with this concept as both Avraham and, subsequently, Yitschak made a similar pact with Avimelech and his top general. The only difference is that the treaties with Avimelech were marked by partaking of a ceremonial meal. The treaty with Lavan was sealed with the construction of a wall. Not just any wall, according to Midrash Tanchuma it was the very same wall that would figure prominently in the humiliation of Bilam. When an angel with a drawn sword was blocking the path, Bilam’s donkey veered to the side and crushed Bilam’s leg against the wall.

Lavan and Bilam were brothers in arms

To add a bit more mystery, the Midrash states that Bilam is Lavan. The commentaries to the Midrash suggest that Bilam was indeed Lavan, was related to Lavan, or was a reincarnation of Lavan. Either way, the Midrash certainly believes that in thought and deed they were one and the same.

To understand the relationship between Lavan and Bilam let’s examine what they have in common. 

What’s yours is mine.

The Midrash describes how dramatically Lavan’s fortunes improved from the time that Yaakov married his daughters. Yet, rather than focusing on his gains, Lavan was upset that his son in law also prospered.  When Yaakov gained from the miraculous fertility of the spotted sheep, Lavan was enraged.  He declared that (according to the moral code of a thug) everything belongs to him:

The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks; all that you see is mine. (Genesis 31:43)

Lavan’s threat to Yaakov and his family constituted a potential genocide of the Jewish People

Lavan told Yaakov outright that he wanted to do him harm. 

“I have it in my power to do you harm; but the God of your father said to me last night, ‘Beware of attempting anything with Jacob, good or bad.” (Genesis 31:29)

If genocide sounds like too strong a word, consider what we say in the Haggadah on Pesach:  “Lavan sought to uproot and destroy everything.”  

However, before he could carry out his plan, Lavan collided with a force far greater than himself. All of his plans for violence literally hit a wall and can go no further. He was humiliated by his inability to carry out his plans. 

Bilam too was bent on genocide 

Bilam used his divine gifts of prophecy to be a gun for hire. His ability to curse a nation so it can be destroyed went to the highest bidder. He fancied himself on such a high spiritual plane that he could provoke God’s anger against the Jewish People. This would allow Bilam to curse God’s chosen people. In effect, His goals to destroy the Jewish People were exactly like Lavan’s. But he too hit a wall

The wall of shame

Imagine, Bilam’s business card said “the world’s greatest seer” yet he couldn’t see what his donkey could see. The wall humiliated  Bilam. The fact that he ignored this clear sign from God, sealed his fate. 

But what’s the significance of it being the same wall used in Lavan’s pact with Yaakov?

Punishing Bilam with Lavan’s wall

According to the Midrash, the wall that witnessed the agreement between Lavan and Yaakov had a moral right to punish Bilam. After all, in Jewish law there are cases in which the witness has a hand in exacting the court-ordered punishment. In his agreement with Yaakov, Lavan was not supposed to cross the wall to attack Jews. Therefore if Lavan and Bilam are the same person, then Bilam’s attempt to curse the Jewish People was a breach of contract. So the wall had to punish Bilam. 

A recurring process in the downfall of our enemies

Perhaps Midrash Tanchuma is showcasing Lavan and Bilam as a paradigm for how those bent on the genocide of the Jewish people will perish. Besides God putting up a wall to ultimately stop them, they will meet their demise in a humiliating fashion.

If we go back to the Purim story,  Haman was totally humiliated before his downfall. The second most powerful figure in the world had to serve his nemesis, Mordechai – the spiritual head of the Jewish People. A nation that Haman described to the king as “so lowly and insignificant that their very existence isn’t worth the trouble.” (The Book of Esther 3:8)

The Allied nations formed a wall that ultimately stopped Hitler. His diabolical ideology of a  superior race was exposed as lunacy. It was a pathetic attempt to wrap his depravity in sophisticated garb. 

About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at www.mindprintmarketing.com. We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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