By Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh Yeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
"It is halacha to know that Eisav hates Yaacov" [Rashi, Bereishit 33:4]. Why, then, when we search for a typical example of hatred for Yisrael, do the sages mention Lavan and not Eisav?
The Maharal gives a reply to this question which leaves room for further study. He writes: "Yisrael has opponents, not like other opponents who came because of a specific reason. Yisrael, however, has opponents for no reason at all. And this happens specifically to Yisrael, that some other nations hate them even though they have done nothing bad to them." We can add a note in clarification: Why do they hate us without any objective reason?
Many different explanations have been given in attempts to explain the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. Some explain that the Jews are isolationists, while others claim that the cause of the hatred is the fact that the Jews are so intimately involved with the lives of the other nations. Some say that this is a natural feeling of hatred for weaker people, while some have described the Jews as having a satanic power which is dangerous for society. Sometimes Jews are hated for being capitalists, while today they are not tolerated in Russia because of the claim that the Jews were among the heads of the Communist ideology which was so disastrous for the Russian nation. The hatred is sometimes brought to fruition by primitive Poles, at other times by intelligent Germans who love literature and music.
The sages tell about a Jew who passed by the Caesar Andrianus and greeted him. The Caesar was very angry that a Jew dared to speak to him, and ordered that his head be chopped off. Another Jew saw what had happened, and when he passed by the Caesar he did not greet him. The Caeser said, how can a Jew pass by and not greet the Caesar? So he commanded to chop off his head. The slaves said to him, We do not understand what you have done. You kill one who greets you, and you also kill one who does not greet you? He replied: Do you presume to give me advice on how to kill the ones I hate?" (Eicha Rabba 83).
In the end, it is not possible to point to a single cause for anti-Semitism. The hatred is at the unconscious level, because we are representatives of a Divine matter. "You are My witnesses, and I am G-d" [Yeshayahu 43:12]. "They said, let us destroy them as a nation, and the name Yisrael will never be mentioned again. For they have combined their hearts together, making a covenant against You." [Tehillim 83:5-6]. And that is what the Maharal means when he writes that the hatred is "for no reason at all," that is, for no reason that is apparent. Therefore, Eisav was not chosen by the sages as a symbol of hatred, since Eisav hates Yaacov for taking the blessings of the firstborn, and this is not an example of the typical hatred of the Jews. Lavan is different, he did not have any objective reason to hate Yaacov, since, as he admitted, "G-d blessed me because of you" [Bereishit 30:27]. Lavan is indeed a typical example of the hatred for the Jews.
When the angel tries to have Yaacov release him after they fought, Yaacov tells him, "I will not send you away until you have blessed me" [32:27]. The hatred and the disagreement will not end until the other nations of the world will be ready to admit that Judaism is at a higher moral status than they are. "And they will say, let us rise up to the Mountain of G-d... For Torah will emanate from Zion" [Yeshayahu 2:3; Micha 4:2|. "And he (Lavan) blessed him there" [32:29] – he agreed to the blessings (see Rashi).