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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Toldot

Parashat Toldot

The Price of a Corruption of the Truth

Yaakov was extremely reluctant to carry out the plan of deception that his mother devised for him and may even have hoped to get caught rather than deceive his father; Yaakov’s methods only justifies children’s (and adults’) tendency to bend the truth (=lie); Were these painful episodes in Yaakov’s life punishments? No.
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Yaakov said what he said and did what he did and, as a result, received the blessing that his father had planned to give to his older brother. He was extremely reluctant to carry out the plan of deception that his mother devised for him and may even have hoped to get caught rather than deceive his father (see Makkot 24a). His reluctance stemmed from the fact that his whole personality and life mission was based on emmet (truth) (Yalkut Shimoni, Sh’lach 743). The prophecy that prompted his mother to command him to get the blessing made his uncharacteristic behavior necessary. Reluctantly or not, Yaakov did deceive his father, a negative act in and of itself, as Yitzchak (Bereishit 27: 35) and the navi (see Yirmiyah 9:3) imply.

Let us take a short but crucial digression. Some of us teach our children (or they are taught in school) that Yaakov did not lie, based on the linguistic pilpul that Rashi (27:9) brings. Halachically, what Yaakov did would be forbidden under normal circumstances (see Shvuot 31a on "mid’var sheker tirchak" and many other sources). All Rashi means is that even when forced to do something which would otherwise be a sin, Yaakov tried to do so in a manner that would minimize the necessary abuse. Teaching that there was nothing inherently objectionable in Yaakov’s methods only justifies children’s (and adults’) tendency to bend the truth (=lie) as convenient or profitable. A look at society (even religious society) shows how dangerous an educational mistake it is to encourage this misconception. Let us return.

Trickery, which was the negative element of Yaakov’s deed, seems to have afflicted Yaakov throughout his life. Lavan and Leah tricked him into marrying Leah before Rachel. (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeitzei 11 stresses that when Yaakov confronted Leah over her deception, she responded that Yaakov himself had acted similarly to his father). Lavan lied to him about the form of his payment after years of dedicated service. Yaakov’s own sons lied to him for 22 years regarding the fate of the abducted Yosef. Certainly, then, it would seem that Yaakov was being punished for the sin of lying.

Were these painful episodes in Yaakov’s life punishments? No. Yaakov’s marriage to Leah paved the way for the Jewish people (named for Leah’s son, Judah) to come into being. As a result of Lavan’s lies, Yaakov ended up with a much bigger flock than he originally requested. The circumstances of Yosef’s abduction paved the way for the saving of Yaakov’s family from famine and the exile in Egypt, which was necessary for their emergence as a nation.

Was Yaakov, then, happy with all of these episodes in his life? Not really. Yaakov paid a tremendous personal price in the form of psychological torment. The payoffs were long-term, historical ones, which shaped our nation. Indeed, Yaakov had to make the initial decision whether or not to heed his mother’s demands of him. In doing so, he had to choose between the welfare of Yaakov, the pure man who sat in the tents of Torah, and Yaakov/Yisrael, the forefather, whose boldness was necessary to forge the way for his descendants’ nation. Yaakov, the man, was ready to and did pay the price, so that Bnei Yisrael could flourish, albeit, not without struggles and difficulties of our own.
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