Rabbi Tzvi Fried
The separation of Yaakov and Lavan can be understood as a two part affair: Yaakov's stealthy exit or put more precisely, escape from his father-in-law?s home and Lavan's idea of a ceremonious parting of ways at Gilead. It is true that these matters were the results of prior circumstances, however, in the Torah a deeper look is always warranted. Yaakov's swift split from Aram, somehow characterizes his position there; Lavan's need to divorce with festivity and pomp sends a strikingly different message about his feelings toward Yaakov. Perhaps we can use a vort still left from Yom Tov to explain.
Shemini Atzeres is HaShem's message to us that our "company" over Yom Tov was appreciated, that the departure of His children after Succos will be difficult. Consequently, we delay one extra day to ease the pain, hence, Shemini Atzeres. But alas, prudent people don't postpone the inevitable, what's the point here? How does the delay of a day actually ease the pain?
R' Yeruchem Levovitz, fabled Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva in Poland, explains that there exists two approaches to departing from someone. A person has an encounter or a relationship; in the absense of benefit or sentiment from the past, they effect a permanent separation. They resolutely bid the other good-bye. No residual connection, no lingering ties. That is one way to break. Alternately, two parties of mutual affection and admiration, engaged, but time is short - taxi's waiting, it's getting dark - are forced to separate, so it's only a corporal one, but emotionally and spiritually, they're still buddies, still aligned. That is a fundamentally different type of separation, one of body not mind.
One of the ways to establish that you have a relationship even though you're leaving is to linger awhile. That shows that the feelings are still connected - that the departure is a reluctant one. Bnei Yisroel are criticized for leaving after Ma'amad Har Sinai as a child bolts from a classroom. They heard every word of the Torah, missed not one iota. Still, by leaving so abruptly, there is a sense of underappreciating and undervaluing what just occurred.
So the message of Shemini Atzeres is this: After a long Yom Tov, the Al-Mighty is "concerned" lest the Jews just depart like nothing precious happened. "I'm outta here - mind, body and soul". That would be difficult and unfortunate. Linger a day. Show that your departure isn't of that sort but of the reluctant kind. You must go back to work, but the mind yearns for the sanctity of Yom Tov.
With this in mind and the notion that Lavan, with all of his real and threatened violence toward his son-in-law, not withstanding, knew that Yaakov was the source of his blessing, we can begin to reveal the ideas behind the two stages of Yaakov's withdrawal.
On Yaakov's part, the relationship is dead. Lavan has been treacherous, and any good fortune there is, is contained in his wives and children who are traveling with him. He seeks an unemotional and total dissolution. Lavan gives chase. Sadly, like many recalcitrant, abusive spouses, he still desires his partner. "Linger! Let's embrace and break bread! We really have so much in common!" Behold the second act of departure, a lingering one, forced by Lavan.
For another application of this vort, I would suggest looking at the Midrash Rabbah at the end of V'zos Habracha. When Moshe Rabbeinu was to pass on, his neshama didn't want to leave. HaShem has a beautiful, moving dialogue with her (the neshama), but she is very stubborn. "A hundred and twenty years ago I recruited you to be in Moshe's body, the job is over, leave - don't tarry." says the Al-Mighty. "I know all spirits are in your hand?but is there a purer place in the world to be than the body of Moshe??I love him, I don't want to leave." she replies. Even when offered a lofty place under G-d's throne the neshama refuses to depart, until, ultimately a Divine kiss draws her out, and thus famously, Moshe dies with a kiss. This Midrash is an enigma, a riddle wrapped within a mystery. Perhaps, we could interpret that the neshama refused to leave because it was scared of a complete break with Moshe. They had become so "close to one another", that the idea of a total separation was unbearable. However, HaShem finally draws her out with a kiss as if to say that He understands, and this isn't a final good-bye, you're still connected with spirit and love, just right now it's time to go their separate ways.
Personally, I'd rather have a mediocre, less stimulating conversation with a person who at least concludes well, then a more informative interesting one with a person who abandoned the talk and leaves me flat when he goes. It's an art to end properly. Optimally, a good conclusion to any encounter is to convey - ever so slightly - with body language or some implication, ?it's been nice seeing you, parting is difficult?. We walk away but we're still aligned, isn't that a great premise for Ahavas Yisroel?!