The Godfather of Haran

You could say a lot of nasty things about Laban, but he was not a stupid man.

Once Laban laid his eyes on his nephew Jacob, he saw dollar signs. The con man from Haran knew that Jacob, regardless of his poverty, would bring blessings.

And Laban gave Jacob everything — for a price. He agreed to hand over his younger daughter Rachel for marriage and then switched her for her older sister Leah. Jacob thought he could outsmart the Aramean, but that would prove impossible.

Laban exploited Jacob until the end. The suitor served 14 years for Rachel and Leah. He worked nights, days, through frost and sandstorms. It was the longest boot camp anybody had ever known.

When Rachel was struggling to conceive, she provided her handmaiden, another daughter of Laban, to Jacob for additional children. Soon, Leah did the same. And the family grew and grew — and they were all Laban’s grandchildren.

There was more. Jacob’s presence spread blessings over Laban himself. Before Jacob arrived, Laban could not produce sons. Now, Laban had sons and heirs. Before Jacob, Laban was shunned by his neighbors. Now, Laban was rich and could count as many friends as he wished. And the godfather was grateful.

And Laban said to him, “If only I have now found favor in your eyes! I have divined, and the Lord has blessed me for your sake.”

When his debt was paid, Jacob wanted to take his family and return to his parents in Beersheba. Laban poured out the charm and offered Jacob a job at any salary. After all, Laban reasoned with a smile, what’s the point of spending 14 years with me and going home penniless?

His pitch was convincing and Jacob came up with an offer that Laban couldn’t refuse. Jacob would be paid with the worst of Laban’s flock — the speckled and spotted goats as well as the brown lambs. These animals were sick and even barren. Laban thought: “My son-in-law must be even dumber than I thought.” Laban would worsen the terms of Jacob’s employment 100 times without a complaint.

And Laban said, “Very well! If only it would be as you say!”

Jacob took the rejected livestock and with divine help they mated and produced offspring. In turn, they gave birth to strong and beautiful kids and lambs that multiplied more than others. Soon, Jacob became a very rich man, and Laban’s sons grew jealous.

Laban didn’t want Jacob to leave. But G-d told Jacob it was time to go home and leave the con man. Quietly, Jacob packed up everything, gathered the wagons and left.

Watching from a distance was Jacob’s evil brother Esau. He quickly sent word to Laban that Jacob had sneaked out of Haran. And Laban and his posse began their pursuit. They moved rapidly and caught up with Jacob within a day near Mount Gilead.

What did Laban plan to do? The Torah doesn’t say, but all indications are that Laban did not have anything good in mind. Perhaps he would stage Jacob’s death, take his family back to Haran and make his own nation. Again, G-d got into the way.

And God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night, and He said to him, “Beware lest you speak with Jacob either good or evil.”

Laban knew he could not harm Jacob. But the old man did his best to delay Jacob’s journey. Laban accused his son-in-law of stealing his idols and the two men argued. Jacob recounted all the times Laban cheated him, the brutal conditions, responsibility for everything that happened to the flock.

The godfather was unimpressed.

And Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, and the sons are my sons, and the animals are my animals, and all that you see is mine. Now, what would I do to these daughters of mine today, or to their children, whom they have borne?

Jacob couldn’t come up with a rejoinder. Twenty years of hard labor and now this wicked man insists he owns everything?

Still, there was truth to Laban’s hyperbole: Laban provided Jacob with his wives, the mother of their children. He set up Jacob in business so he could return to the Land of Canaan a wealthy man and equipped to build a nation. Now, Laban and his dreams of a partnership with Jacob would be abandoned.

Laban’s last words to Jacob marked a prophecy and warning. If Jacob or his descendants would replace or abandon Laban’s daughters, there would be hell to pay.

If you afflict my daughters, or if you take wives in addition to my daughters when no one is with us, behold! God is a witness between me and you.”

And that’s exactly what took place: When the tribes of Reuven and Gad replaced their Jewish wives with gentiles, chaos and violence ensued. When Ahab, king of Israel, took Jezebel as queen, he faced the formidable army of Laban’s descendant, Ben Hadad. The covenant between Jacob and Laban has lasted throughout history. Regardless of Laban’s cheating heart, his daughters would mark the backbone of the Children of Israel. That was the last Jacob heard from his father-in-law.

And Laban arose early in the morning and kissed his sons and daughters and blessed them, and Laban went and returned to his place.

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.