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The Foundation Stone Haggadah: Laban and Pharaoh

“While Pharaoh decreed death only for males children, Laban thought to eradicate us all.” How strange that in a story in which Pharaoh plays the role as the most evil character, we introduce the tale by describing someone even worse! I suspect that there is actually a connection between Laban’s efforts and Pharaoh’s success. Laban attacked the very identity of the nascent nation: “The daughters are my daughters. The sons are my sons.” Laban wanted to claim his rightful place as patriarch of the family. After all, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Bilha and Zilpah were all his daughters. He actually played a major role in building the family!


Laban used his final confrontation with Jacob to once again accuse his son in law of not being as righteous as Jacob perceived himself. Laban demanded that Jacob not cause his four daughters to suffer by Jacob adding any wives. Laban showed himself as the loving and protective father. He could not trust his daughters to Jacob.

Laban chipped away at the very identity of the budding family. Were they the descendants of Abraham and Isaac any more than the offspring of Laban and his father Betuel?

No wonder, when the family arrived in Egypt they quickly lost their sense of identity: The book of Exodus – Shemot, or Names – begins with the loss of names. A nameless man from Levi, married a nameless woman of Levi, and they had a nameless child, whose nameless sister stood and watched the nameless daughter of Pharaoh pull the nameless baby from the water.

Would we have fallen for Pharaoh’s strategy if Laban had not wounded our sense of identity as a nation?

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