Image: A pile of stones. Photo by Mathias_Beckmann/Pixabay.
Towards the end of Parashat Vayetzei, after the drama between Jacob and Laban has played itself out, we find an account of a treaty between the two men.
They don’t like one another. Each believes himself to have been cheated by the other. Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah, then got seven more years of labor from him to earn the hand of Rachel. Then Jacob, angry at his father-in-law, used trickery to enrich himself by means of Laban’s flocks. Laban resents it, believing Jacob’s wealth is stolen from his pocket.
Both men see themselves as the victim of a cheating scoundrel.
Finally, Jacob sneaks away with his wives, his household, and his flocks, and Laban follows in hot pursuit. He whines that Jacob crept away secretly, robbing him even of a chance to say goodbye to his daughters, even robbing him of his household gods.
Jacob roars back at Laban, and the twenty years of resentment pour out of him. And then, just at the moment we expect the two men to come to blows, Laban points out that like it or not, they are family: Laban’s daughters are Jacob’s wives. They have more in common than their grudges.
“Come, let us make a pact, you and I, that there may be a witness between you and me.” (Gen 32:44) Jacob sets up a pillar, and they make a pile of stones and share a meal. And in a telling detail, they call the place by two different names, words that mean the same thing, one in Aramaic and one in Hebrew. As alike as Laban and Jacob are in many ways, ultimately they do not understand one another at all.
Sometimes, when families or individuals cannot get along, peace looks like a boundary line, respected by both, though they cannot understand one another at all.