Separating From Lavan's Bad Habits by Rabbi Howard Jachter

1997/5758

              In a celebrated comment, Rashi (Breishit 32:5) interprets Yaakov's message to Eisav - 3. -"0 #9;*, "I lived with Lavan."  Rashi explains, 3. -"0 #9;* &;9*# /7&; :/9;* &-! -/$;* //3:*& %93*., "I lived with the wicked Lavan, and I nonetheless observed all of the 613 Mitzvot, without internalizing or adopting any of Lavan's evil actions."  Rashi derives this point from the fact that the word #9;* has the numerical value (Gimatria) of 613.  There are a number of profound lessons that we can learn from this comment.

              First of all, Rashi is teaching us how to survive Jewishly when we are surrounded by a culture whose values are antithetical to Torah values.  It is not sufficient to observe all of the Mitzvot in such a circumstance.  We must also be careful to avoid adopting the surrounding culture's bad habits and values.  Unfortunately, many Jews today have adopted either the American consumer culture and other immoral actions found in our society.

              On the other hand, Rashi does not stipulate that Yaakov learned nothing from Lavan's household.  While he had to be careful to avoid picking up Lavan's bad traits, he still should have tried to pick up what was good about Lavan.  Rav Aharon Lichtenstein lamented (in a Shiur delivered at Yeshivat Har Etzion in 1983) the fact that many Israelis have adopted America's Rock and Roll music, but not the American work ethic.  Rav Yehuda Amital (at Y.H.E. in 1982) noted that we are commanded to erase the memory of Amalek, but not of Egypt.  The Torah therefore wants us to learn a lesson from the positive actions of ancient Egypt's population.  For example, they worked very hard. 

              Modern-Orthodox Jewry, whose motto is #9 &;&:" !1,* 3/,., "I am a stranger and a dweller in your midst," (Breishit 23:4) have a great challenge.  Namely, we, as individuals and as a community must be able to say, "We have succeeded in remaining totally observant even while taking in the good aspects of the society in which we live."  We must emulate Yaakov's example, and hopefully we shall succeed.

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