A variant of this issue was discussed before, but it does not fully answer my specific question.

-Deut. 26:5 says: אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי.

-It is frequently translated as: "My father was a wandering Aramean."

-But more and more you see the translation: "An Aramean tried to destroy my father." The Aramean in question is Laban and the father is Jacob.

My question is: In what way did Laban try to destroy Jacob? Sure, he tricked him repeatedly, exploited him, tried to take everything away from him, and so on. But destroy him? Isn't that a bit strong? Wasn't Jacob the father of his grandchildren and the husband of his daughters? Some will say creatively that what he did amounts to destroying his "soul", his "independence", his stewardship of the Jewish people, and some such, but I am not convinced. Why is it necessary to reject the first translation/understanding?

1 Answer 1


The popularity of this interpretation is certainly due to the Haggada

צֵא וּלְמַד מַה בִּקֵּשׁ לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי לַעֲשׂוֹת לְיַעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ: שֶׁפַּרְעֹה לֹא גָזַר אֶלָּא עַל הַזְּכָרִים, וְלָבָן בִּקֵּשׁ לַעֲקֹר אֶת־הַכֹּל. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט, וַיְהִי שָׁם לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל, עָצוּם וָרָב.

Go out and learn what Lavan the Aramean sought to do to Ya'akov, our father; since Pharaoh only decreed [the death sentence] on the males but Lavan sought to uproot the whole [people]. As it is stated (Deuteronomy 26:5), "An Aramean was destroying my father and he went down to Egypt, and he resided there with a small number and he became there a nation, great, powerful and numerous."

Why the Haggada assumed this interpretation can probably be found in some of the 50 commentaries found in the link. But I think the violent threat of Lavan is certainly implicated in parshas Vayeitzei.

See 31:25 where Hashem Himself had to appear to Lavan and warn him not to engage Yaakov for good or evil:

וַיָּבֹ֧א אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶל־לָבָ֥ן הָאֲרַמִּ֖י בַּחֲלֹ֣ם הַלָּ֑יְלָה וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֗וֹ הִשָּׁ֧מֶר לְךָ֛ פֶּן־תְּדַבֵּ֥ר עִֽם־יַעֲקֹ֖ב מִטּ֥וֹב עַד־רָֽע׃

But God appeared to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, “Beware of attempting anything with Jacob, good or bad.”

Then, when Lavan meets up with Yaakov he offers a veiled threat:

יֶשׁ־לְאֵ֣ל יָדִ֔י לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת עִמָּכֶ֖ם רָ֑ע וֵֽאלֹהֵ֨י אֲבִיכֶ֜ם אֶ֣מֶשׁ ׀ אָמַ֧ר אֵלַ֣י לֵאמֹ֗ר הִשָּׁ֧מֶר לְךָ֛ מִדַּבֵּ֥ר עִֽם־יַעֲקֹ֖ב מִטּ֥וֹב עַד־רָֽע׃

I have it in my power to do you harm; but the God of your father said to me last night, ‘Beware of attempting anything with Jacob, good or bad.’

Do not think for a moment Lavan would not have carried through with this evil violence if not for Hashem's intervention.

  • "Do not think for a moment Lavan would not have carried through with this evil violence". (1) But why would he? (2) Harm is not necessarily violence. (3) Why did God not want Laban to do "good" to Jacob? Dec 5, 2019 at 20:00
  • Re 1) Here in America it's unfortunately not so uncommon to hear about bitter family splits where someone viciously murders their own family that they feel they were unjustly robbed of. Sometimes it's a murder-suicide, but not always. It is however a completely insane skewing of selfishness into what the perpetrator thinks is love. 2)ra is bad. It is the opposite of tov in these contexts. I'm not sure what else it could be. 3)rashi in parshas balak brings a medrash when Bilaam wanted to bless yisroel we tell the bee I don't want your honey or your sting. Nothing good comes from something bad.
    – user6591
    Dec 5, 2019 at 20:41
  • what is the haggada's source? Dec 6, 2019 at 20:48
  • @Maurice Good question again. And again I would suggest going through some of the commentary on sefaria in the link. Also interesting is that the passuk in Devarim quoted seems to imply that the Aramean threat directly resulted in Yaakov's descent to Mitzraim. There seems to be quite a lot missing
    – user6591
    Dec 6, 2019 at 20:57

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