Continuing my weekly posts of mental health-inspired reflections on the weekly Torah reading.
Throughout this week’s sedra, Yaakov (Jacob) is cheated by his uncle Lavan (Laban), who first makes him work seven years so that he can marry Lavan’s daughter, Rachel, then tricks him into marrying her sister Leah and insists he work another seven years for Rachel. He then encourages Yaakov to work for him for wages for another six years, but repeatedly changes the terms of the contract to try and fleece* him of his salary. Finally, Yaakov goes back to the land of Canaan, leaving secretly for fear that Lavan will keep Rachel, Leah and their children with him by force. When eventually Lavan catches up with Yaakov, Yaakov finally gives in and delivers a whole speech (Bereshit/Genesis 31.36-42) complaining of his ill-treatment. Yet Lavan simply rants back at him and they end up making a truce.
From a mental health perspective, this reminds me of the way that when someone with low self-esteem starts to stick up for themselves, those around them who have been used to them being a doormat feel that they are being attacked. They feel that the formerly timid person has become an angry monster, when they are simply establishing healthy boundaries where none previously existed. Similarly, Yaakov, although not suffering low self-esteem, suddenly asserted himself when previously he had been quietly forgiving, but rather than admit his guilt, Lavan saw this as an unjustified attack and fought back forcing a face-saving truce rather than an outright victory for Yaakov.
* No pun intended, but as Yaakov was working as a shepherd, maybe this is overly appropriate.