Rashi on the Medrish explains that according to Rebbe Yitzhak he was Second in Command, a ruler who would protect the wronged and “whiten” (or defend) their deeds and would judge court cases between a man and his fellow, and whiten (or clarify) judgement. The Etz Yosef adds that this was a great praise for him. According to Rebbe Brechya his wickedness was as white, or clear for everyone to see. (Click here for Hebrew text)
How could someone known to be so evil and dishonest also have a reputation for standing up for honesty and pursuing peace?
There are a number of indicators in Chumash (with Rashi) that Lavan had an eye for wealth. This seems to have been the source of his downfall, as we see in this week’s Torah portion of Chayei Sarah, regarding when Rivka comes home with Eliezer, Avraham’s servant: “Rivka had a brother whose name was Lavan: Lavan ran to the man, outside to the spring” (24:29). Rashi asks why Lavan ran, and for what did he run for? Rashi answers that when he saw the nose ring [given to Rivka, Lavan said to himself] ‘he must be rich’ and he wanted to eye his money.
When Rachel brings Yaakov home, the Torah relates: “And it was, when Lavan heard the news of Yaakov his sister’s son, he ran towards him, embraced him, kissed him, and took him to his house; he recounted to Lavan all these events” (Breishis 29:13). Rashi on that pasuk says that Lavan thought he was carrying money, because in the previous visit the servant of his house came with ten loaded camels.
We see from this how complex a human being is. A person can be a beloved leader, helping the underdog, and determined to resolve justice with a good name, while simultaneously being so corrupt that he is known throughout history as the prototypical swindler, a person worse than the evil Pharaoh. All because money got the better of him.