Parashat Vayeitzei tells of Yaakov’s experiences over the course of the twenty years he spent in the home of his uncle, Lavan, where he married Lavan’s two daughters and shepherded his flocks, earning great wealth. This period ended with Yaakov abruptly leaving Lavan’s home with his family and herds, whereupon Lavan chased after him. After a tense exchange, Yaakov and Lavan made a truce, and the Torah concludes, “Lavan returned to his place, and Yaakov went along his way” (32:1).
Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, in his Meshekh Chokhma, finds it significant that Lavan is described here as having “returned to his place,” which could be taken as intended to emphasize that he emerged from this experience unchanged. Lavan resumed life as usual, returning to the same “place” – the same condition, mindset and lifestyle – where he had been previously. Rav Meir Simcha suggests explaining this to mean that Lavan was not impacted in any way by the presence of his righteous nephew in his home for twenty years. Citing the verse in Mishlei (13:20), “Holeikh et chakhamim yechkam” – “He who walks with the wise becomes wise,” Rav Meir Simcha writes that normally, one who spends time in the proximity of a great person is enriched and influenced by that person’s greatness. Lavan, however, parted ways with Yaakov after being together for twenty years, and then he “returned to his place,” to his corrupt and sinful character, living a life of evil just as he had before he met Yaakov.
The verse then proceeds to contrast Lavan with Yaakov, stating that Yaakov left Lavan and then “went along his way,” which Rav Meir Simcha explains to mean that he continued his lifelong efforts to grow and improve. When Yaakov left Lavan, he maintained his determination and work to raise himself higher – in direct contrast to Lavan, who refused to take advantage of opportunities for improvement. Whereas Yaakov consistently and proactively strove to grow, Lavan consistently and proactively resisted growth. This contrast, as described by Rav Meir Simcha, teaches that we, as the descendants of Yaakov, must always be trying to improve, and, at very least, capitalize on all the many opportunities that present themselves for inspiration and motivation to advance.