The Hagadda is the story of the Exodus from Egypt; yet early on, there is a strange section that doesn’t really seem to fit the theme:
צֵא וּלְמַד מַה בִּקֵּשׁ לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי לַעֲשׂוֹת לְיַעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ: שֶׁפַּרְעֹה לֹא גָזַר אֶלָּא עַל הַזְּכָרִים, וְלָבָן בִּקֵּשׁ לַעֲקֹר אֶת־הַכֹּל – Go out and learn what Lavan from Aramean sought to do to our father Yakov; Paroh only oppressed the males but Lavan sought to destroy it all!
How was Lavan worse than Paroh, and what’s it doing at the Seder?
Lavan didn’t oppress Yakov; Lavan made him successful, powerful and rich!
Before Moshe’s death, he warned the people about a mistake they and we would repeatedly make:
הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ, פֶּן-תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת-ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹר מִצְותָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם. פֶּן-תֹּאכַל, וְשָׂבָעְתָּ; וּבָתִּים טֹבִים תִּבְנֶה, וְיָשָׁבְתָּ.וּבְקָרְךָ וְצֹאנְךָ יִרְבְּיֻן, וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב יִרְבֶּה-לָּךְ; וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-לְךָ, יִרְבֶּה.וְרָם, לְבָבֶךָ; וְשָׁכַחְתָּ אֶת-ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, הַמּוֹצִיאֲךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים – Take care that you don’t forget the Lord your God and fail to keep His commandments, rules, and laws, which I instruct you today: when you have eaten and you are satisfied, and built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, be careful that your heart not grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God—who freed you from the land of Egypt, home of slaves… (8:10-14)
R’ Jonathan Sacks suggests that Lavan is included in the Haggadah as a powerful warning us that the story does not end with Pesach. Across the ages, the more the Jews have suffered, the more they studied, prayed, and improved their observance – וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ. The danger of Lavan was more insidious – that Yakov would forget who he was and stay with Lavan – לַעֲקֹר אֶת־הַכֹּל. The paradox is that the greater threat to Jewish continuity is affluence and freedom, as our generation knows all too well.
Affluence, no less than slavery, can make us forget who we are and why.
It is one thing to believe in God when you need His help. It is another thing entirely when you have already received it.