Parashat Va-Yetze 5769/ December 6, 2008
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
Jacob’s Treaty with Laban
Dr. David Elgavish
Department of Bible
The end of Parashat Va-Yetze (Gen.31:43-54) parallels the beginning of Parashat Va-Yishlah (Gen. 33:1-17). Both these passages describe the last chapter in the saga of relations between Jacob and his relatives, first his uncle Laban and then his brother Esau. These two family members, who were also Jacob’s adversaries, made their peace with him even though they did not achieve full reconciliation and co-existence. Jacob was blessed with fulfillment of the scriptural verse, “When the Lord is pleased with a man’s conduct, He may even turn his enemies into allies” (Prov. 16:7). Previously in this forum [the Bar Ilan Parasha Page] we dealt with the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau,  and here we shall discuss the parallel passage in which a treaty is made between Jacob and Laban.
Treaties in the
The basic method of our study here is comparative: Treaties
in the Bible parallel treaties that we find in the
Jacob’s Status in the Pact.
We have seen that Laban initiated the pact, determined its historical prologue, and dictated the terms and sanctions in case of violation, whereas Jacob performed the actions relating to establishment of the pact, primarily preparing the meal, and more importantly, swearing to it – for only Jacob’s oath is explicitly mentioned. These facts indicate that in the pact at hand Laban was the senior party, and Jacob the lesser party. However, attention should be paid to the fact that the terms of the pact can be divided into two: the undertakings of the son-in-law towards his father-in-law, and a non-belligerence agreement between the two. In the part of the agreement between son-in-law and father-in-law – protecting the rights of the women (Gen. 31:50) – there is no place for a commensurate undertaking on the part of the father-in-law.  In contrast, in the non-belligerence agreement the terms are mutual and balanced (Gen. 31:52). The sacrificing is done by Jacob, not only because he owns the flocks, but also because he cannot partake of a sacrifice made by the gentile Laban,  therefore we cannot draw any conclusions from this regarding Jacob’s status in the pact.
In conclusion, we may say that this pact was not intended to establish coexistence, but actually to institute a separation between the two. This was not a pact in which a lesser party was subservient to a more powerful party, rather a mutual agreement not to attack the other, made between parties of equal status.
 See my article, “Jacob’s Encounter with Esau: A Lesson in Diplomatic Etiquette,” A Divinely Given Torah, Tel-Aviv 1998, pp. 91-94.
Dennis J. McCarthy, S.J., Treaty and
Covenant, 2nd ed.,
 On historical prologues in Hittite contracts see Amnon Altman, The Historical Prologue of the Hittite Vassal Treaties: an Inquiry into the Concepts of Hittite Interstate Law, Ramat Gan 2004.
J. Wenham, Genesis (Word BiblicalCommentary),
parallel can be found in the treaty of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II and the
Hittite king Hattusili III, in which the two sides
undertook not to cross the border in order to take anything from the
other. See Gary M. Beckman, Hittite
Diplomatic Texts [SBL Writings from the Ancient World Series, 7]
 Verses 45-46 say that Jacob erected the pillar, and his kinsmen (Heb. ehav, lit. brothers), the mound of stones. Ehav here apparently refers to Jacob's men, since it does not stand to reason that Jacob would order Laban's men to gather stones. But even in this instance Laban ascribed to himself actions which he had not performed and claimed that he had erected the pillar and the mound (see verse 51).
and Jacob's encounter took place in the highlands of
Mitzpeh of Gilead, mentioned in the story of
Jepthah (Judges 11:29), is identified with
Hirbet Khavda, one kilometer
north of Hirbet Matzavta
(="ruins of the pillar"), which is
 Pierre Buis, "Les formulaires d'alliance," Vetus Testamentum 16 (1966), p. 399.
 In this passage Jacob addresses ehav (lit. "his brothers") a second time. In verse 46 he addressed them regarding the task of making a mound of stones, which indicates that the use of ehav there denotes Jacob's kinsmen, or according to Rashi's commentary, his sons; in the second instance ehav denotes Laban's camp. When it comes to eating, they are all brethren, but when it comes to working, only the sons are willing to lend a hand.
 Menahem-Tzvi Kaddari, Milon ha-Ivrit ha- Mikrait: Otzar Leshon ha- Mikra me-Alef and Tav, Ramat Gan 2006, p236.
a Commentary (Continental Commentaries), trans. by John J. Scullion,
 D. J. McCarthy, "Three Covenants in Genesis," CBQ 26 (1964), p. 182.
 McCarthy, ibid.