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Breishit 29:18 (Sefaria's English translation:)

וַיֶּאֱהַ֥ב יַעֲקֹ֖ב אֶת־רָחֵ֑ל וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אֶֽעֱבָדְךָ֙ שֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֔ים בְּרָחֵ֥ל בִּתְּךָ֖ הַקְּטַנָּֽה׃

Jacob loved Rachel; so he answered, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”

Rash"i (excerpt):

ברחל בתך הקטנה. כָּל הַסִּימָנִים הַלָּלוּ לָמָּה? לְפִי שֶׁהוּא יוֹדֵעַ בּוֹ שֶׁהוּא רַמַּאי

Jacob gave Lavan all these signs (descriptions - namely your & younger daughter & Rachel) because he knew that Lavan was a swindler.

Q - How did Jacob know this for certain? I'm guessing that his mother warned him about her brother. But there is nothing in the text or any Midrash or other commentary that I could find explaining how he knew.

  • I believe it the idea can be alluded to explictly in Gen 24:50-60 – TrustMeI'mARabbi Dec 12 '19 at 5:01
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The Midrash Lekach Tov (collected by Rav Toviah Ben Eliezer 11th century) Bereishis 28,15 says that G-d informed Yaakov he would protect him against Lavan in the prophetic vision (with the Ladder and Angels before having gone to Lavan) thus implying Lavan could harm Yaakov. Being the wise man Yakov was, he proceeded with caution (Hishtadlus) to protect himself from Lavan as much as possible from monetory or bodily damage:

והנה אנכי עמך. להצילך מן הרוחות ומן המזיקין.
**ושמרתיך בכל אשר תלך. בבית לבן. דכתיב השמר לך מדבר עם יעקב מטוב ועד רע (בראשית לא כט).

"Behold I will be with you" - to save you from evil spirits and damages,
"I will guard you where-ever you may go" - in the house of Lavan as it is written regarding Lavan: "Dare not speak to Yaakov either good or bad."

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Based on Rashi's own words, and based on Rashi's sources, he did not know for certain that Lavan was a deceiver, but knew this as a cultural aspect of the people in Lavan's place, which is, then, perhaps something well known.

From Rashi's own words, we might see some uncertainty as to Lavan's status as deceiver or righteous person. On verse 12, Rashi writes:

כי אחי אביה הוא: קרוב לאביה, כמו (לעיל יג ח) אנשים אחים אנחנו. ומדרשו אם לרמאות הוא בא גם אני אחיו ברמאות, ואם אדם כשר הוא, גם אני בן רבקה אחותו הכשרה:

that he was her father’s kinsman: Heb. אִחִי אָבִיהָ, lit., her father’s brother. Related to her father, as (above 13:8):“we are kinsmen (אַחִים)” (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer , ch. 36). Its midrashic interpretation is: If he (Laban) comes to deceive me, I, too, am his brother in deception, and if he is an honest man, I, too, am the son of his honest sister Rebecca. [from Gen. Rabbah 70:13]

Throughout, Rashi channels Bereishit Rabba. The midrash referred to in the question, in Midrash Rabba, reads as follows:

ויאהב יעקב את רחל בגין דאנא ידע דאנשי מקומך רמאין, לפיכך אני מברר עסקי עמך.

"And Yaakov loved Rachel... [and he said, "I will work for you seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter.]Since I know that the people of you place are tricksters, therefore I will make my matters clear with you."

Thus, in the original midrash, Yaakov explicitly tells Lavan that he knows that the people in his location are liars.

This information need not have come from his mother. If it is a cultural trait, then this could have simply been well known information to any adult living in the Ancient Near East.

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I would also assume that either his mother told him or it was well-known information.

Some of the Rishonim understand that when Yaakov had the conversation about Lavan at the well with the shepherds he was also asking them about the type of person Lavan was. (Although very few understand in the shepherd's answers anything negative about Lavan)

Possibly after he rolled off the rock for them they felt indebted to him and were more forthcoming with information.

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  • Would like you to locate a rishon that says this – DanF Dec 15 '19 at 10:44
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His mother told him. Simple as that. Also, Lavan gave Eliezer trouble when asking to take Rivka to Yitzhak.

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    How do you know this? No offense, but most of us don't know you that we should take your word for it. – msh210 Dec 12 '19 at 9:42
  • @msh210 Common sense is a valid tool to use when you learning Tora. If a question can be answered by using common sense, it's not such a great question, right? – Alaychem Remember Monica Dec 12 '19 at 11:41
  • Common sense is indeed important to apply when learning Torah. Let's see how it applies to this case: (1) Yaakov was presumably an adult at this point (indeed Rashi at the end of Tol'dos, based on the Bavli M'gila, says exactly how old he was, but I forget and anyway maybe others argue) so Rivka had unlikely seen Lavan for many years. Could she know he was a cheat? All the less so according to the midrash that she married as a child. (2) I don't see how common sense tells you that Lavan gave Eliezer trouble. – msh210 Dec 12 '19 at 12:14
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    Besides @msh's point, the OP already said this "I'm guessing that his mother warned him about her brother.” Common sense indicates that you guessing something he already guessed is a bad answer. – Double AA Dec 12 '19 at 12:33
  • Hey. I'm not offended by someone else's common-sense mimickry. – DanF Dec 15 '19 at 10:43

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