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The Power of Self-Transformation

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

Parashat Vayetze

By Rabbi Moshe Bernestein

Yaakov's 20-year residence in Lavan's home is described in the Vayeitzei Torah portion. He took part in caring for Lavan's sheep during this time. Lavan tries to prevent Yaakov from returning at all costs and by all means. When Jacob and his family flee Laban's home, he and his sons chase after them to force their return. It is for this reason that Laban is described as one of Israel's most dangerous enemies. Furthermore, despite the fact that Lavan was a wicked man who frequently lied to Yaakov, G-d nevertheless protected Yaakov from him, and as a result, Yaakov merited the establishment of the House of Israel. How was it that Yaakov achieved such spiritual accomplishment not during a period of intense Torah study but rather while working as a domestic helper in Lavan's home?

According to the Midrash, Lavan—who attempted to stop Israel's departure from Charan so many years earlier—is the Aramite prophet Balaam who King Balak summoned to curse Israel on the eve of their entry into the Holy Land. The Torah explains how they broke two of the most significant Noahide commandments: Lavan worshiped idols and Balaam engaged in forbidden relations with his donkey.

The seven commandments were given to purify this material world. This is achieved by sanctifying the world by doing them because they were given to Moses on Mount Sinai. At the conclusion of this service with the arrival of Moshiach, the entire world will be a “dwelling place” for G‑d. Following the seven commandments can give the ability to hold and change even the lowest levels of the world—represented by Laban—into holiness.

The name Laban means "white". Laban represents the "supernal whiteness" that transcends all "color" and classification. Thus "Laban" represents the power of transformation —it bridges opposites and can transform a thing into its very extreme. This is how Balaam's divine gift of prophecy, in which his prophetic power was equal to that of Moses, could reside within such an evil person. His curses could be transformed in his very mouth into the highest blessings, and he even ended up issuing the most important of the Torah's prophecies— the promise of future redemption by Moshiach.


Rabbi Moshe Bernestein is a writer and a Community Rabbi in Netanya, Israel. He believes in making connections between the Jewish People and the Noahides worldwide in order to share and enhance the knowledge of the Torah's Universal Code for Humanity and fulfil Isaiah's Prophecy 11:9 " And the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the oceans".


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