When one looks through a parsha, one can find inspiration in the most unexpected places. When I read through this week’s parsha recently, I was struck, for the first time, by the sentences near the end (after Laban’s reconciliation with Jacob): “And Laban rose early in the morning, and kissed his grandsons and daughters, and blessed them. And Laban departed and returned to his place” (Gen. 32:1,2).
We can ask: What is so significant about Laban’s action here? Whenever the Torah uses the phrase “Vayashkem … baboker” (“And … rose early in the morning”), it indicates some momentous event about to occur: Avimelech about to restore Sarah to Abraham (Gen. 20:8), Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22:3), Jacob about to set up a pillar and make a vow after his dream with the ladder (Gen. 28:18, also in this week’s parsha), Moses about to set up an altar and twelve pillars and read the Book of the Covenant to the people in the desert (Exod. 24:4), Moses about to climb Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments a second time (Exod. 34:4).
So what is so special about someone kissing his grandchildren and blessing them? Just about every grandfather does that as a matter of course.
No explanation is given in Rashi, or many of the other commentators. However I came across the following explanation by the Sforno. He says that from this we learn that a father’s blessing, because it is so wholehearted, must be fulfilled (even if the father is Laban!)
The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 18) asks the following question. Suppose two men suffer from the same illness, and one recovers and the other not. Or suppose two men are sentenced to death, and the one is reprieved and the other not. Why is there this difference between their fates? In each case, answers the Gemara, both men prayed, but the one prayed a complete prayer and the other not. What does this mean — that the unsuccessful man skipped some of the prayers of the Morning Service, or took short cuts? No, it means, according to Rashi, that the one man prayed with complete devotion (kavana) and the other did not.
The Maharal has an interesting explanation as to why people should go to a tzaddik (righteous man) for a blessing. It is not (as many people think) because the tzaddik has special influence with G-d. It is because the tzaddik has as much love for Israel as a father for his son, so that when he prays for any Jew, his kavana is such that the prayer will be accepted. (It’s not the person, it’s the prayer!)
If the Torah were to tell us about the effectiveness of a prayer or blessing from a tzaddik such as Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, our reaction might be: “What has that to do with me? My prayers could not have such an effect!” It is precisely because this blessing came from Laban, certainly no tzaddik, that we can learn about the effectiveness of praying with kavana.
When we come into the synagogue to pray regularly (twice a day, or once a week, or whatever it is), we are often so concerned with the mechanics of praying, that our praying tends to become mechanical. We should realize how powerful an influence for good we can have on other people’s lives, and on our own, when we pray with kavana.
It is my prayer that G-d answer all our prayers.