This week's Parsha begins and ends with angels, oaths and pillars. At the beginning of the Parsha Yaakov sleeps and dreams of angels ascending and descending a ladder, makes an oath that if G-d keeps him safe and provides for him this will be the place of the house of G-d and sets the stone he has slept on as a pillar. At the end of the Parsha Yaakov is pursued by Lavan and after a harsh exchange, he makes a pillar or heap of stones, exchanges oaths and then encounters angels.
Both occur in exactly that order which occur in inverse order the second time around. His encounter with the angels follows the oaths and the pillar whereas the first time he first sees the angels, then makes an oath and finally makes the pillar.
What occurs between these two series of events comprises the entire Parsha. Yaakov like Avraham and Yitzchak goes into a temporary exile among a people with foreign and immoral ideas who seek to exploit him. After a period of struggle he comes out wealthy and powerfull and those same people recognize that G-d is with him. For Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov these disputes involve wells. Avraham and Yitzchak struggle with Avimelech and the Phlistim over the wells that they dug and Yaakov contends with Lavan over his daughter Rachel whom he met at the well and then the flocks watered at the well.
A well is the expression of hidden life, where a river is easy to see and to obtain water from, a well must be sought for and dug out and then defended. A river only has to be approached, a well requires exertion and effort. Yaakov comes upon a well which is closed and which cannot be opened by any ordinary man and opens it for the benefit of all. Avraham and Yitzchak dig wells which are seized by the Phlistim and stopped up. As Lavan did, the Phlistim realize that they are blessed through Avraham and so Avimelech comes to Avraham and Yitzchak and offers them a treaty.
Using langage similar to Lavan, Avimelech asks for treaties that promise him Avraham will not harm him or his children and hypocritically claims to have done him good. There is one more similarity to Lavan. Like Lavan, G-d appears in a dream to Avimelech on behalf of both Avraham as a warning. And each time with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov they come seeking an oath are used to designate the treaty that will assure them they will not be harmed by a man they realize is blessed by G-d.
There is one more important similarity. Each even occurs after a seperation. Avimelech comes to Avraham after Avraham has sent away Yishmael leaving the way clear for Yitzchak to inherit his legacy. Avimelech comes to Yitzchak after Esav sells his birthright to Yaakov leaving the way clear for Yaakov to inherit Yitzchak. But no such seperations occurs for Yaakov, none of his children are cast away. But when the treaty is made between Yaakov and Lavan it comes after not one but three seperations, each important, have occured.
First Yosef, Rachel's first son is born, seperation Yaakov's children in a fundamental way. Secondly Yaakov departs from Lavan separating himself and his family from Lavan's. Between them though is the seperation of the animals. Lavan asks what wages Yaakov wants and Yaakov uses a plan to cause the animals to be born colored and speckled and only later does he reveal to his wives that this was a message from G-d. The entire incident seems rather odd at best.
Does G-d really need to appear to give Yaakov tips on animal husbandry? And instead of telling Yaakov how to go about doing it, the angel shows him speckled animals mating with the flock and then tells him, I know all that Lavan does to you. The result is cryptic and difficult to understand. We see G-d blessing Avraham and Yitzchak and Yosef and Yaakov too so that they prosper, why not simply have Yaakov divide a share of animals and have them prosper while Lavan's grew weak and died? Wouldn't this be a greater miracle and show clearly as was done with Avimelech that G-d favors Yaakov, rather than having him resort to a trick?
The question then must become what does it all mean? Not merely the animals but Yaakov contending with Lavan, dealing with his trickery for most of the Parsha. What is the significance of it all and why tell it all to us? We aren't informed in the same elaborate ways what Avimelech or others tried to do to Avraham or Yitzchak.
The Hagadah tells us that Arami Oved Avi, an Aramean tried to destroy my forefather, namely Lavan. Yet we don't really see Lavan destroying Yaakov. We see him cheating and manipulating him and refusing to let him leave. In their final confrontation, Lavan claims that Yaakov's wives and children are his. When Yaakov relates to Rachel and Leah his dream of the angel and the animals, which isn't related to us before then, Rachel and Leah clearly divide themselves and their children from Lavan as a foreign entity. What is the significance of relating the story of the angel and the animals to them?
When Lavan claims that the wives and the sons are his, what does he really mean? That they are his property? Rachel and Leah state clearly that he treats them as strangers. So in what sense are they 'his.' That his traits are in them.
When Lavan chases after Yaakov he searches their tents and the tents of their maids but no one else's for his idols. If he really felt that everything Yaakov owned was his literal property, he wouldn't have bothered searching for the idols but declared that it all belongs to him. The idols are significant to him because it would prove that his daughters share his corrupt traits and that those traits are passed down to Yaakov's children as well and that the Jewish people that would come from them would be 'his', rather than Yaakov's. And in this Lavan would succeed in destroying Yaakov and the Jewish people.
Lavan reasoned that even Rivka who seemed righteous produced a Yaakov and an Esav so that the traits of their Rivka and Lavan's parents were in them as well. So too his daughters might seem righteous like Rivka but they would inwardly have his family's traits too polluting and contaminating Yaakov's line.
When the angel appears to Yaakov and shows him the animals mating and tells him that he knows all that Lavan does to him, he's not merely offering him a tip to get rich quick, he's showing Yaakov that Lavan's belief is wrong. Lavan does not own Yaakov's family and he has not succeeded in polluting his line. By the demonstration of the separation of the animals Yaakov then demonstrates to Lavan why he's wrong.
The angel shows Yaakov speckled animals mounting the flock. Yaakov tells Lavan to seperate out all the speckled animals and animals with various specified markings. When Lavan does so, an additional term is introduced, animals with white on them and the term used is 'Lavan', the same as Lavan's name. Yaakov had seemingly allowed Lavan to take away all the animals that were 'his' by markings and in Lavan's mind, these were Lavan's animals as they all belonged to him. As Lavan believed that from his family must be born those who share the same traits as him, so too the animals who are unmarked must give birth to unmarked animals. White must give birth to white, Lavan must give birth to Lavan and dark must give birth to dark.
Yaakov plants the sticks that this is not so. When the animals come to drink water, the influence of the sticks guides them to who their children will be. As Avraham and Yitzchak dug and established wells, Yaakov's entire sojourn in Lavan's house and the tribes that would be born began with meeting Rachel at the well which he uncovered to reveal the living water within for the animals. Now again he used their watering to show that Lavan's beliefs were wrong, that he had no share in his family anymore than he did in the flocks and that the children that would be born from his daughters would be Yaakov's rather than Lavan's.
As water from a well comes from a hidden source, so too the living qualities in a person that give them life can be hidden and a well can be found even in a wicked family. In Rachel and Leah, Yaakov had found the wells in a parched land and opened them to water others by creating a family that would become a nation. So too each time Avimelech was forced to realize that the land might be his but the wells were not and the water that came from them belonged to Avraham and Yitzchak.
When Lavan finally encounters Yaakov he realizes there will be no separation. No Yishmael or Esav will come from Yaakov whose children are fully righteous and not at all his. Instead of trying to separate Yaakov's family he makes a separation between himself and Yaakov's family and so we return to the pillars, angels and oaths.
The pillar Yaakov planted on his journey to Lavan was for the Bais Hamikdash, the place where the family that had yet to be and to become a nation would worship G-d. Yaakov's oath requested that G-d provide him with the physical necessities as indeed G-d in his dream had promised that he would inherit the land and his children would become as numerous as dust, a physical inheritance rather than the spirtual inheritance of stars.
Now the pillar Lavan plants reaffirms the separation between them. No more would Yaakov's family seek out Lavan's family. They were divided permanently with obligations spelled out in the oath to Lavan's daughters who were now also permanently parted from him. Only then once this is concluded does Yaakov see the angels but this time they are not descending or ascending but coming towards him.
Yaakov has dwelled many years in Lavan's house, coming there with nothing and returning with everything. G-d's promise to him has been fully fulfilled and Yaakov has produced most of the Jewish people who will go on to build a house of G-d and through this finalize the separation between Yaakov and Lavan, between the way of G-d and Lavan's treacherous and idolatrous ways. The greatest task and challenge that Yaakov faced was overcome and fulfilled and he was now coming home.