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B'resheet/Genesis 24:29 And Rivkah had a brother, whose name was Laban; and Laban ran to the man, the one outside, by the well ...
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After watching her fulfil the sign that he had asked ofHaShem for recogising His choice of a wife for Yitz'khak, Avraham's servant has just given Rivkah "a gold nose-ring weighing a half-shekel, and two gold bands for her arms, ten shekels in weight" (B'resheet 24:22, JPS). She in turn has rushed home to tell her mother all about it and the narrator then introduces the next member in the family of Avraham's kinsfolk in Haran: Laban, the man who is later to be known as "Laban the Aramean".
Nahum Sarna tells us that many of the Avraham family names are connected with a common theme. itself means 'white', while the female form, is "the white one", a poetic term for the moon. Avraham and Nahor's father was called Terah, linked to , "the moon"; Sarah is the Hebrew equivalent of the Akkadian word 'queen', the name of the consort of the moon-god Sin, and Milkah - Nahor's wife and the grandmother of Rivka - comes from another Akkadian word 'princess', the name of Sin's daughter. The Sages commented on Laban's character: "Rabbi Isaac said: He was exceptionally white; Rabbi Berekiah said: He was a refined rogue" (B'resheet Rabbah 60:7). The Soncino translation of the Midrash explains in a footnote, "Rabbi Isaac holds that he was so called because he was exceedingly white, while in Rabbi Berekiah's opinion it means that he was whitened, i.e. polished, in evil".Hirsch reports, "a cutting remark of our sages hereon says there was nothing (white) about him except his name!"
Laban rushes out to offer hospitality to the stranger at the well; or does he? The next verse appears to offer an alternative explanation: "when he saw the nose-ring and the bands on his sister's arms, and when he heard his sister Rivka say, 'Thus the man spoke to me'" (B'resheet 24:30, JPS). Notice the punctuation here given by the translators or, more tellingly, not given. The sentence started in our quote above appears to run on into this verse: "Laban ran to the man, the one outside, by the well, when he saw the nose-ring". The major Jewish commentators agree.Rashi asks, "Why did he run? And for what did he run? When he saw the nose ring he said, 'This one is rich' and he set his eyes upon the money." The Sforno confirms, "Laban ran to see the wealthy visitor, not to offer him hospitality", while Hirsch comments that "To Laban the sight of gold at once exercised its magic: 'Ha, there will be more where this comes from. If this is what he pays for a drop of water, what will it be for board and lodging!'"
Rivkah, before she rushed home, had told Avraham's servant, "We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night" (24:25, ESV), while Laban makes the invitation formal: "Come in, O blessed of the L-RD. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house and a place for the camels" (v. 31, ESV). Sarna comments, "Laban's hospitality appears to match that of his sister, except for the impression that he is motivated by greed. The narrative here is anticipating the character of Laban as revealed later in his dealings with Jacob."
There is nothing in the narrative of this betrothal scene to suggest that Rivkah is operating out of wrong motives. She innocently performs the sign that Avraham's servant has asked, then receives the gifts in an appropriate way. She must have recognised that this constituted an offer of marriage, but after the menfolk have talked through the formalities of the arrangement, she gives her consent quite openly and - so to speak - rides off into the sunset, aware than she will never see her family again. The narrator tell us that Laban, on the other hand, although he appears to offer hospitality and listen attentively to what the servant relates and proposes, has very far from right motives and has his eye on what there might in this for him. He is not disappointed, since at the conclusion of the negotiations, "the servant brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rivkah. He also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments" (v. 53, ESV), but these clues in this story prepare us for the next time that we meet Laban and he deals deceitfully with Rivka's son, his nephew Ya'akov. He looks good on the outside, talks well and offers hospitality, but his thoughts are only on what he personally get out of the situation and the people.
What motivates us? What is it that attracts our attention and drives us to engage with people and situations? Are we seeking their good or our own? Rav Sha'ul encouraged the Philippians to "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV). We have all been involved in conversations where the person to whom we were talking was simply assessing whether we could open any doors for them, or give them a leg up the ladder in some way. As soon as they had decided that we couldn't 'help' them, they dropped us and moved on because they had no real interest in us at all, only how they might be able to use us, our name or connections in advancing their own cause.
Laban was clearly attracted by physical wealth - the gold jewelry given to his sister. Yeshua taught the disciples that they should have a different focus: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:19-21, NASB). Is having jewelry and other nice things forbidden? No, Yeshua isn't saying that; He is asking about our attitudes: are we stockpiling wealth, defining ourselves (and others) by how much we have? Are we, essentially, putting our trust and investing our lives in trying to acquire material possessions which at best are for this lifetime only and at worst depreciate just by looking at them. Yeshua calls us to make our life investments in the kingdom of G-d, where we will see both an immediate return in this world - seeing the lives of others and ourselves change for the good - and be laying up treasures in heaven.
In another conversation, Yeshua was approached by an earnest young man of means, who asked how he could be sure of life in the world to come. Yeshua outlined the basic commandments, which the young man assured him he had always kept. So what was wrong? The young man sensed that there was more. Then Yeshua told him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matthew 19:21, ESV). Should we take this, with Rav Sha'ul's comments that "women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire" (1 Timothy 2:9, ESV), as an indication that all believers should be under a vow of poverty and never have any nice or attractive clothes or decorations. The gospel writer records that "when the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions" (v. 22, ESV), so he was clearly significantly challenged by Yeshua's words. G-d doesn't have a problem with people making an effort to look tidy and attractive, taking care of their clothing and appearance, within sensible limits provided that the focus is on the right thing - we are, after all, walking advertisements for the kingdom of G-d. If we look scruffy, unkempt or unwashed, then we put people off hearing the good news about Yeshua. G-d definitely has a problem with bling1, since that is worn as a form of self-promotion or boasting.
Our efforts to share our faith with other people and see them come to know Yeshua must also be driven by our compassion for them (and our obedience to our Father) rather than to get tick another on our chart or notch on our cane. Our motives in this area must also be clear: we share with whoever G-d puts in our path, not filtering or selecting on socio-economic grounds; the kingdom has no demographic profile. Rich and poor, educated and illiterate, old and young, male or female - all need to hear the gospel and be invited to respond to G-d's grace. Of course, each group may need an appropriately worded explanation and invitation, but we must not run to this one or that one simply because of their outward appearance or manner of speaking. We too cannot pretend to be something that we are not, but simply be ourselves and say the words that the Ruach puts in our hearts as He graciously calls people into the kingdom.
1. - bling - a slang term referring to flashy, ostentatious or elaborate jewelry and ornamented accessories that are worn for effect and to attract attention in and of themselves.
Further Study: Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Timothy 6:18-19; Ephesians 4:1-3
Application: Do you feel that you have been used by social climbers in the body of Messiah? We must forgive the offence and move on, but remember to treat others with the grace G-d has extended to us, "always ready to give a reasoned answer to anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you" (1 Peter 3:15, CJB).
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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