This week, when the sidra deals with Rebekah’s brother Laban, it seems appropriate to focus on this less than popular personality and see what rabbinic thinking has to say about him.
The name Laban, from lavan – “white”, is thought to denote “glowing with wickedness” (Gen. R. 60:8).
He is called “the Aramean” (Gen. 25:20, 31:21,24), and though this is a geographical description he lived in Aram the sages link it with ramma’i – “imposter”, “deceiver” (Gen. R. 70:17).
He conducted the negotiations for Rebekah’s marriage to Isaac; the rabbis believe he wished to rob and kill Abraham’s messenger, Eliezer, and the latter only saved himself by resorting to the Divine Name.
In Jewish tradition he personifies chutzpah because he pushed himself forward when he should have let his father speak.
Later on, when Jacob came into his house, he cheated him financially, and by marrying him to Leah instead of Rachel, and making him labour for years in order to secure Rachel too.
When the Torah says Arami oved avi – “My father (Jacob) was a wandering Aramean” (Deut. 26:5), the Haggadah reads it, “an Aramean (Laban) wanted to destroy my father”.
His consistently churlish behaviour was not only roundly condemned by the sages; the Jewish people have shown their disapproval in their own way by the fact that hardly ever, if at all, has a Jewish child been given the name Laban.