Parsha Vayeitzei (Mussar approach)

Jacob deceives Isaac

Bereishit (27:35-36) (Robert Alter, trans.)
When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out with a great and bitter outcry and he said to his father, “Bless me, too, Father!” And he said, “Your brother has come in deceit and has taken your
blessing.” And he said, “Was his name called Jacob that he should trip me now twice by the heels? My birthright he took, and look, now, he’s taken my blessing.”

Bereishit (29:24)
And when morning came, look, she was Leah. And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you, and why have you deceived me?”

Robert Alter
The deceiver deceived, deprived by darkness of the sense of sight as his father is by blindness, relying, like his father, on the misleading sense of touch. The Midrash Bereishit Rabba vividly represents the correspondence between the two episodes: “And all that night he cried out to her,
‘Rachel!’ and she answered him. In the morning, ‘and, … look, she was Leah.’ He said to her, ‘Why did you deceive me, daughter of a deceiver? Didn’t I call out Rachel in the night, and you answered me!’ She said: ‘There is never a bad barber who doesn’t have disciples. Isn’t this how your father cried out Esau, and you answered him?'”

Acts of Deception

1. Jacob takes Esau’s blessing.
2. Rebecca reframes Jacob’s exile as a search for an appropriate bride.
3. Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah.
4. Jacob tricks Laban with goat breeding.
5. Rachel steals Laban’s household idols and hides them in a pillow.

Unknowingly Jacob curses whomever stole from Laban to die, leading to Rachel’s death.

Eliyahu Dessler

Every middah comes to perfection only when the person passes tests and trials which involve the
opposite of that middah … With this knowledge we can gain insight into some of Ya’akov Avinu’s
trials and tests. We are often puzzled by the fact that Ya’akov, whose middah was truth, was so
often involved in situations in which he has to act in a manner which seemed to be the opposite of truth. … His task was to carry out these [deceptive] actions with absolutely pure motives — solely for the sake of truth. This need to battle against falsehood would draw out of him the full power of truth.

Greg Marcus, author of The Spiritual Practice of Good Actions, founder of American Mussar
Karma is a bitch. [referring to Jacob’s experience with Laban]

Traditional rabbis are strongly committed to the idea that the actions of the patriarchs and matriarchs are good and exemplary, even if we at first don’t understand them. While Jacob is involved in many deceptions, Rabbi Dessler views these deceptions as being for the “sake of heaven,” for a greater truth. How might he construe those deceptions as being for a greater truth? In what ways does Jacob also demonstrate a commitment to a conventional understanding of truth in this parshah?

Alternatively, you could see Jacob as being particularly challenged to be truthful — how might his experiences lead him to grow?

Have you had personal experiences where deception is for a higher purpose? How do you know what your real motives are?

Have you had personal experiences were other persons deceptions led you to recognize the “full power of truth”?

Rabbi Wolbe says that a way to tell if your actions are for the sake of heaven is if they are undertaken with compassion for the other. He thinks that Jacob failed in this regard towards Esau. Why do you think he says this?

Socrates told a story where a man came to him and said that he had something to tell him, but that it would hurt him. The man wanted to know if he should say that hurtful thing to Socrates. Socrates answered that you should consider three questions:

1. Is it truthful?
2. Is it for the good?
3. Does it help?

How is Socrates understanding “deeper truth”?

Rabbi Wolbe says that deeper truth has the following characteristics:

1. It fits with objective reality.
2. It is not obvious, it provides new insight.
3. It comes from a deep compassion and connection to others.

How is this similar or different from Socrates idea?

How do the deceptions in Jacob’s trials measure against Socrates’ and Wolbe’s tests?