Former Shaliach in New York
Fearing of being killed by his twin brother, Yaakov has just left his aging parents in Canaan in order to go live for a while with his mother’s family in Charan. Only recently, was he still threatened by the intense hatred of Eissav, accused of stealing the blessings that his father intended to give Eissav, and already Yaakov seems to be the ‘loved one’ as his uncle Lavan runs out to greet him as soon as he hears of his arrival in Charran.
The story continues, as we all know, with Yaakov being invited to stay in Lavan’s home, and seemingly, the immediate falling in love with Rachel, the younger of Lavan’s two daughters.
The story takes an interesting twist when Yakkov finally marries Rachel after seven difficult years of working for Lavan, only to find Rachel’s sister in bed with him the next morning. The Medrash in Breishit Raba (Parasha 70) tells us that Yaakov was calling out Rachel’s name all night, thinking it was his newly wedded wife, only to find that it was actually Leah responding to his calls. Yaakov, obviously quite upset, told her she was deceitful, adding that she is a daughter of a deceitful person, referring to Lavan’s long list of fraudulent occurrences in the past (and unknowingly, soon to occur in the future).
Leah’s immediate response was that students can only learn from good teachers, opening Yaakov’s Pandora box, which he thought he had left behind in Canaan.
Had this Medrash not been written, we would have still instinctively been reminded of Yaakov’s Pandora box. His conduct when Eissav was asked to hunt game for Yitzchak left us with many questions. With his mother, Rivka’s, assistance, Yaakov brought his father a meal, and received the blessings intended for Eissav not before fraudulently answering that he was Eissav when asked by Yitzchak who he was.
The Medrash is clearly trying to show us that there is room for criticism towards Yaakov. However, in most instances when the sages criticize the forefathers, it is mainly for a relatively insignificant act such as Avraham claiming that Sarah was his sister. This story, of stealing the blessings, is obviously a fundamental part in the historical decision as to who will be the privileged person to continue the ways of Avraham and Yitzchak, and it seems unacceptable that Yaakov received such a privilege only as a result of committing a sin.
Therefore, we must read the psukim in a different light. Yaakov, knowing his twin brother so well, knew that Eissav cannot receive the blessings of the Land and the Offspring from his father since he is endowed in a world of sins and hatred, a world that Avraham and Yitzchak have kept their distance from over the past two generations. The Jewish law accepts that ‘Meshanim Mipnei Hashalom’ – one may lie under certain circumstances in order to maintain peace in the world. Yaakov must have seen the outcome of choosing Eissav to be the successor of Avraham and Yitzchak, and insisted on changing it.
However, if the first lesson this parasha teaches us that one may twist the truth for important causes, the second lesson comes right back at us through this Medrash – every lie, even if for good causes, bares its results. Yaakov, who ended up taking from Eissav both the precedence by way of birthright and by way of the blessings, was now married to Leah and having to confront with his previous lies which have re-surfaced. The toll he had to pay in order to marry Rachel was double – he had to remain married to Leah and work an additional seven years for Lavan.
I would like to suggest that Lavan’s two requirements expected of Yaakov in order to marry Rachel might suggest a response to taking the birthright and the blessings from Eissav. Remaining married to Leah was in order to show Yaakov that if he thinks birthright takes precedence only in Yitzchak’s family, he is wrong. Additionally, working seven more years was to show Yaakov that taking food from his mother’s kitchen in order to steal the blessings while Eissav was out in the field working for those same blessings is unacceptable since there is no replacement for hard work.
The ultimate lesson we must take with us from this story is that although it is reasonable to change the truth for causes worthy of it, the consequences are almost always inevitable.
In a way, Yaakov learned his lesson the ‘hard way’. Yaakov continued to work hard his entire life, all resembled in his words to Pharaoh telling him that he has lived a difficult life. However, he also learned that the birthright is not necessarily a question of who was actually born first as we see in his blessings to the sons of Yosef, when he maneuvered his hands and put his right hand on the head of the younger brother, Ephraim, and his left hand on the head of Menashe.
If there’s any doubt remaining whether Yaakov acted correctly when taking the blessings intended for Eissav, it would seem that the fact that all twelve of his children were fortunate to continue his legend, together carrying his name – Bnei Yisrael, testify that Yaakov’s actions were not in vain and rather than being condemned, must be praised.