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B'resheet/Genesis 32:1 And Laban rose early in the morning and he kissed his sons and his daughters and he blessed them; and Laban went and returned to his place.
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This is the closing verse of the final encounter between Ya'akov and his maternal uncle, Laban. After twenty years of service - often, in the later years, as the object of Laban's dishonesty and abuse - Ya'akov has been called back to the land of Canaan byHaShem: "The L-RD said to Ya'akov, 'Return to the land of your fathers where you were born, and I will be with you'" (B'resheet 31:3, NJPS). After a pursuit across the desert and a dramatic intervention by HaShem to prevent Laban harming Ya'akov - "G-d appeared to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, 'Beware of attempting anything with Ya'akov, good or bad'" (v. 24, NJPS) - followed by a close search of Ya'akov's camp looking for Laban's stolen household idols, Laban and Ya'akov make a covenant of mutual non-aggression: both parties promise not to do each other harm.
Now, Laban takes his leave of Ya'akov, his two daughters and twelve grandchildren: eleven grandsons and one granddaughter. One the one hand, Gordon Wenham optimistically reports that "reconciliation is followed by peace. The angry chase ended in a covenant guaranteeing respect for each other's family and territory in the future. Now there is an amicable parting with the traditional kissing and blessing and Laban returns home."1 On the other hand, as Laurence Turner astutely points out, "the conflict is not resolved, merely recognised and managed. The coldness between the two main antagonists is illustrated by Laban's farewell kisses for his grandchildren and daughters. There is no embrace for Jacob. The contrast at this farewell with the embrace and kisses at their first meeting - "On hearing the news of his sister's son Ya'akov, Laban ran to greet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and took him into his house" (29:13, NJPS) - speaks volumes for the path their relationship has taken."2 The relationship is over; neither will see the other again and there is no further contact between the house of Laban and the house of Ya'akov.
At a textual level,Ibn Ezra clears up the confusion over exactly who Laban kisses and blesses. "His daughters" is clear enough, Ya'akov's two wives Leah and Rachel, but who are "his sons"? As far as we know, Laban's sons accompanied him on the pursuit of Ya'akov and will return with him to Padan Aram. He is hardly going to kiss and bless them! Ibn Ezra explains that "'his sons' means his grandsons, his daughters' sons." Ovadiah Sforno addresses Laban's blessing - what might this be? "Our Sages have said, 'Even the blessing of a common man should not be treated lightly' (b. Megillah 15a); the Torah tells us of Laban's blessing to his daughters to teach us that a father's blessing is, without a doubt, given with all his soul and is worthy to be accepted (effective), reflecting as it does the 'image of G-d' within the father who blesses, in the same way as [Yitz'khak's words], 'so that I may give you my innermost blessing before I die' (27:4. NJPS)." Rabbi Pelcovitz(3 adds: "When a father blesses his children, the blessing emanates from the depth of his soul and therefore it is extremely effective. This is true whether it be a Yitz'khak or a Laban."
When Yeshua sent out His twelve disciples among the towns and villages of the Galil, He gave them "power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases" (Luke 9:1, ESV) and sent them "to proclaim the kingdom of G-d and to heal" (v. 2, ESV). They were to take "nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics" (v. 3, ESV). Explicitly instructed to stay in just one house in the village for the whole of their time in each place, "who is worthy" (Matthew 10:11, ESV), they were totally dependent on the goodwill and generosity of the people of the village for board and lodging. But what would happen if no-one wanted to support them in this way - how were they then to find food to eat and a place to sleep? "Move on," Yeshua told them; "Cut your losses and go on to the next village." But before they went, they had to perform a symbolic ritual: "Wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them" (Luke 9:5, ESV). They were not even to take the dust that had accumulated on their sandals with them as a sign of the inhospitable reception they had received. Darrell Bock suggests that "the act warns rejecters of impending judgement if their decision does not change. It expresses their separation from G-d. To reject the kingdom message was - and is - serious business."4
Luke reports later that Rav Sha'ul experienced the same situation at Antioch in Pisidia: "the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Sha'ul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium" (Acts 13:50-51, ESV). Although many did want to hear the good news of the kingdom, the Jewish synagogue leaders rejected both the message and the messengers, so - like the twelve disciples before them - Sha'ul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet as a sign that they had done their best but had been repulsed. Craig Keener reports that Jewish travellers normally shook dust from their feet when leaving a pagan town, suggesting that Sha'ul is treating the hostile Jews as if they were pagan.5
In Corinth, after Silas and Timothy came to join him, Sha'ul was witnessing to the Jews in the city but "when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, 'Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles'" (18:6, ESV). Here, in an even more dramatic gesture, following that of Nehemiah speaking to the landowners in Israel who had been charging interest to their fellow-returnees from Babylon, "I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, 'So may G-d shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise" (Nehemiah 5:13, ESV), "facing persistent recalcitrance," Sha'ul - in Keener's words - "pronounces judgement on the synagogue."6 Although he does not leave the city, Sha'ul leaves the synagogue community - along with one its leaders - to their own devices. Like Ezekiel, he has performed his duty as a watchman over Israel, blowing the horn of salvation in Yeshua - "If anybody hears the sound of the horn but ignores the warning, and the sword comes and dispatches him, his blood shall be on his own head" (Ezekiel 33:4, NJPS).
What lesson can we take from all this - that we should start waving the soles of our shoes at those with whom we disagree? Simply this: we have to know when it is right to disengage and move on. Ya'akov had spent twenty years getting to know Laban all too well; although he could have tried to end more cleanly and less abruptly, HaShem had told him to go home and he did. Laban's issues were, well, Laban's! The twelve disciples must had a few villages where they were given the cold shoulder and not allowed to stay and teach, even with Yeshua's authority and reputation to help. They couldn't afford either the personal angst or the time to try and engage in pointless arguments that weren't going anywhere. Rav Sha'ul was literally thrown out of some of the places where he went to share the good news about Yeshua; in three places he writes of "afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger" (2 Corinthians 6:4-5, ESV) surrounding his work, yet he pushed on, always judging the moment to disengage.
Walter Brueggemann writes: "No-one can have their future as they wish it - not Laban, who is finally tricked; not the barren wives; not even Jacob. The same battle against a closed history is still present to us. History may appear to be closed with the collapse of public institutions, with the shortage of energy, with the ways of technology which outstrip our humaneness. What is to come leaves us filled with a mixture of hope and dread ... On the one hand, history is not closed because G-d has surprises yet to give. But on the other hand, the future will be shaped in G-d's promised way."7 Brueggemann is right about the many challenges that surround us, attempting to close off our future and history. But our future is not closed because Yeshua is leading us forwards, because we have been filled and equipped by the Spirit and because G-d will ultimately and definitively fulfil every plan and purpose that He has for His people and for His world. In the final analysis, history will be shown to be His-story when He, in Yeshua, is proved to be victorious.
1. - Gordon Wenham, Genesis 16-50, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), page 281.
2. - Laurence A. Turner, Genesis - Readings: A New Biblical Commentary, 2nd Ed., (Sheffield, Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 139.
3. - Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz is the translator, editor and commentator for the Artscroll edition of the Sforno's commentary on the Torah.
4. - Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53 ECNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996, page 817.
5. - Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume 2, Acts 3:1-14:28, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), page 2106.
6. - Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume 3, Acts 15:1-23:35, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), page 2742.
7. - Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation, (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), page 260.
Further Study: Luke 10:1-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5
Application: Do you find yourself stuck in arguments, conversations and relationships, wasting time being sucked dry with no sign of progress or a light at the end of the tunnel? You need to know when to disengage, to stop talking and move on to save your sanity and to get to your next assignment in the work of the kingdom. Spread everything out before the L-rd today and let Him show you when and where to shake the dust off your feet.
Comment - 13:20 19Nov23 Janet Gray: Yes. Yeshua is Our Hope, Strength and Comfort ... Halleluyah. May the anthem, HaTikva, truly be found, no longer rejected.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2023
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