Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Truth and Deception of Yaakov

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

"Give truth to Yaakov." (Micha 7:20) The primary trait of Yaakov is that of honesty. However, our parsha relates actions of Yaakov that stand in conflict with the trait of honesty. Yaakov takes advantage of Esav and purchases from him the birthright. He acquiesces to his mother's command and goes to deceive his father, Yitzchak. Yaakov later says to Rachel, "I am his [Lavan's] brother in deception." (Rashi Bereisheet 29:12) How can we learn the trait of truth from Yaakov?

The Netziv (Harchev Davar) cites the Midrash on the verse, "Fetch me from there two choice young kids of the goats" - good for you and good for your children. Good for you that you will receive the blessings through them, and good for your children, who will be atoned through them on Yom Kippur. What is the connection between the blessings and the two goats of Yom Kippur.

The Netziv explains that every trait has use, and "bad traits" have good in them, provided that they are used in proper measure. This is similar to poisons that are sometimes used as medicines, and they are good when used with professional supervision.

The same is true with the two goats. One was sacrificed on the Altar, whereas the second was sent to azazel, which is a kind of offering for the forces of tum'ah. This is also something positive when done upon G-d's command (cf. Ramban to Parshat Acharei-Mot). This is what Rivka meant. The two goats of Yom Kippur are equal in their mitzvah, even though one is for holiness, and the second - the opposite. So, too, the two traits that Yaakov is expressing now, one of truth, in listening to his mother, and the second of falsehood, in deceiving his father - both are considered a mitzvah to bring the blessings upon himself.

In Midrash Rabbah it says that Yaakov was punished because he caused Esav to "scream a great and bitter cry." His punishment was that Mordechai later, "screamed a great and bitter cry" in Shushan.

Why was Yaakov not punished for causing that his father "trembled very greatly?" The Netziv explains that to use a sin for pure intentions there is a need for extreme carefulness not to derive pleasure from the sin. This is unlike a mitzvah, where even if one derives pleasure from the mitzvah, the mitzvah remains intact. However, when doing a sin with pure intentions, it is not considered a mitzvah when one derives benefit from the sin.

This is expressed in the Gemara (Nazir 23b), where it says, "Great in a sin done with pure intentions," which is learned from Yael (who seduced Sisera and killed him). The Gemara asks, "But Yael derived pleasure from the sin?" and answers that the pleasure of the wicked is considered bad by the righteous. Based on this, when Yaakov scared Yitzchak, he did not derive any pleasure, and certainly felt bad, but was forced to do this. On the other hand, when Esav screamed, Yaakov felt inwardly happy. Since Yaakov was doing a sin for the sake of pure intentions, he was not allowed to derive pleasure from it and was therefore punished.

This was Yaakov's test, that he knows how to deceive, but does this with pure intentions and does not derive pleasure from it. Through this he proved that his trait is truth even at a time that he needs to lie. Everything is tested based on the its opposite. Avraham, whose trait was chesed, was tested with the trait of yir'ah - "Now I know that you are a G-d fearing man". (22:12) Otherwise, it would have been possible to think that the trait of chesed was natural to him, and is not so much of a virtue. Similarly, Yaakov, whose trait was truth, was tested whether he knows how to deceive when necessary without being affected and not to derive pleasure. Therefore he says, "I lived with Lavan and observed the 613 mitzvot," and I was not drawn to deceit like Yaakov.

Chazal comment in the Midrash that when Yaakov went in to Yitzchak, he prayed, "Hashem, rescue my soul from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue." (Tehillim 120:2) This is most striking! He is going in to lie, and asks that G-d rescue him from falsehood? Rather, even though now he is rightfully going to deceive his father, there is concern that he might be affected by this also in the future, even when there is no need, and he prayed about this.

This is what Yitzchak said to Esav, "Your brother came with cunningness." (27:35) Why did Yitzchak have to say this to him and cause him anguish? Rather, he told Esav that he had mistaken in estimating Yaakov. Until now Yitzchak thought that Yaakov was completely straightforward, and could not lie even when necessary, so that he requires Esav's assistance in serving G-d. Now Yitzchak became aware that Yaakov also can come with cunning. Since he now sees that Yaakov not only "dwells in tents," but is also a man of the world - "Indeed, he shall remain blessed." (27:33)

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