Parshat Vayeitzei

Jacob and his sheepActs of Trickery or Deception Involving Jacob

  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. Laban removes dark and speckled sheep, cheating Jacob in their agreement over his earnings.
  5. Jacob perform goat breeding to promote healthy dark and speckled sheep.
  6. Rachel steals Laban’s household idols and hides them in a pillow.
  7. Jacob does not tell Laban that he will be leaving.

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

Traditional Mussar 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?

Bereishit 31: 4-7
Jacob had Rachel and Leah called to the field, where his flock was … As you know, I have served your father with all my might;

Bereishit 31: 38-41
“These twenty years I have spent in your service, your ewes and she-goats never miscarried, nor did I feast on rams from your flock. That which was torn by beasts I never brought to you; I myself made good the loss; you exacted it of me, whether snatched by day or snatched by night. Often, scorching heat ravaged me by day and frost by night; and sleep fled from my eyes. Of the twenty years that I spent in your household, I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flocks; and you changed my wages time and again.”

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

Midrash Rabbah Bereishit (as cited by Robert Alter)
“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?’”

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 similar or different from Socrates’ idea?

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

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz writes, concerning Jacob, that the greater a person is spiritually, the greater is their evil inclination (yetzer hara). In order to maintain free will, a person’s spiritual strengths must be countered by opposing drives. What does this imply about the significance of struggling with bad traits? Does this reframe for you Jacob’s representation as the patriarch of emet, when he seems so challenged by the truth?