Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Lavan's Motto - Parshat Vayetze and the Mumbai Attacks

Enraged at Ya’akov’s midnight flight from Haran, Lavan gathered his brothers and chased after his son-in-law, daughters and grandchildren. The Midrash (Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer 9a) explains that Lavan decided that rather than lose his extended family, he would destroy them. In fact, we take note of his evil intentions at the Passover Seder when we recite, Arami oved avi, “an Aramite (Lavan) intended to destroy my father.” Lavan only desisted from murdering his family because God appeared to him in a dream, warning him to refrain from harming Ya’akov.

When Lavan finally reached Ya’akov and confronted him, he threatened him using curious language: Yesh l’el yadi - “it is in the power of my hand” to harm you. I wanted to kill you all, but I won’t because your father’s God warned me not to. (verse 29) The term el yadi – the power of my hand, carries a double implication. Rashi explains that the word el means “power” or “ability.” Yet, the word el clearly carries a deistic connotation as well, often used to refer to God. In fact, Chizkuni explains the phrase to mean, “Even your God knows my power, and fears that I will take vengeance against you.” Why does Lavan strangely infuse God in his threat against Ya’akov?

Lavan invokes God because tyrants and terrorists must always invoke God to justify their heinous crimes. How can Lavan - a father and grandfather - even contemplate the cold-blooded murder of his entire family? Yesh l’el yadi. He invoked the name of his god. After all, Lavan asks Ya’akov, “Why have you stolen my gods?” (verse 30) In the battle for religious supremacy, Lavan foreshadows a world devoid of morality, whose only goal of religious domination justifies any act, no matter how barbaric and repugnant.

The world witnessed yet another example of Lavan’s fanaticism in the vile terrorist attacks in Mumbai this past week. In addition to the senseless murder of over 174 civilians and countless more injuries, the attackers also specifically “were sent specifically to kill Israelis to avenge “atrocities” against the Palestinians,” the Times of India reported. They accomplished their goal, killing six Israelis among nine Jews, including the local Chabad emissary Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife Rivka, 28 – both American citizens. Moreover, we this week learned that they were not only murdered. Debka reported that, “Mumbai hospital doctors were horrified by the condition of the six Israeli bodies recovered from the smashed, blood-spattered rooms of Chabad Center Monday. Local and Israeli pathologists confirmed they were tortured by their Islamist terrorist captors before being bound together and killed in cold blood.”

Israelis and Jews have always served as a target for religious extremists. After all, Arami Oved Avi is the continuation of vehi she’amdah – “in every generation they stand up against us to destroy us.” The entire world last week painfully discovered Lavan’s motto: yesh l’el yadi. In the name of God, one can justify any act. Even the brutal murder of a father and pregnant mother in front of their two-year-old son.
The hagaddah offers only one consolation: ve’hakadosh baruch hu, matzileinu m’yadam; in the end, we believe – we know that “the Holy One blessed be He, saves us – and will continue to save us, from their evil, violent and brutal hands.”