By Shira Sohn
Former bat sherut at Torah MiTzion
Currently studying mechanical engineering at Tel Aviv University


Yaakov is characterized by Chazal as a man of emet – truth. Micah 7:20 lists emet as Yaakov’s defining characteristic (and chesed as Avraham’s): “Grant emet to Yaakov and chesed to Avraham, as you have sworn to our forefathers.” Another example is found in the Talmud, where Yaakov is described as someone of clean and truthful speech ‘”That has no slander on his tongue”–  that is Yaakov’ (Makkot 24a). It is difficult to understand how truth is Yaakov’s defining character trait when we see in this week’s parsha that he tricks Yitzchak into giving him Esav’s brachot! Is this an action we would characterize as truth?

Nechama Lebowitz points out commentaries and places in the text that indicate Yaakov’s reluctance to carry out this seemingly deceitful act. The Gemara quoted above (Makkot 24a) continues to say that Yaakov was reluctant to deceive Yitzchak to get the brachot, as it is written: “Perhaps my father will feel me, and I will be in his eyes like a fraud” (Bereshit 27:12). In fact, Yaakov was very concerned about being truthful, and he only went through with the plan because his mother, Rivka, told him to. Yaakov’s reluctance can further be seen in his word choice. Yaakov says that Yitzchak might realize he is Yaakov and not Esav due to Esav’s hairiness, “Perhaps (ulay) my father will feel me” (Bereshit 27:12). HaKetav VeHakabbala notes that Yaakov uses the word ‘ulay’ (אולי) instead of the word ‘pen’ (פן). ‘Pen’ means ‘lest’ and is used when the speaker does not want the outcome to happen. For example, when Chava is talking to the snake about the command not to eat from the Etz HaDaat in Gan Eden, she says “But of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, God said, “You shall not eat of it, and you shall not touch it, lest (pen) you die’” (Bereshit 3:3). Clearly death is not a desired outcome. The fact that Yaakov does not use the word ‘pen’ but instead uses the word ‘ulay’ about his father discovering that he is in fact himself and not his brother shows that he actually did want the outcome to happen – he wanted Yitzchak to realize it was him! Yaakov was not comfortable with the dishonesty, and Yitzchak realizing his deceit would put the bracha decision in Yitzchak’s hands and not his own. Another indication of Yaakov’s reluctance is the fact that he does not dress himself but is instead dressed by Rivka: “She dressed Yaakov” (Bereshit 27:15).

When Yaakov eventually reconciles with Esav later in the narrative, he makes sure that Esav knows his aversion for the trickery that had occurred surrounding the brachot. Yaakov presents Esav with a gift and says “Take now my gift (berchati) which I brought to you” (Bereshit 33:11). Why does he use the unusual word ‘berchati’ for gift? Yaakov uses this word because it also alludes to the blessings (brachot). He is saying to Esav – take back the blessings, in an attempt to correct his untruthful behavior.

Yaakov only deceives Yitzchak because of Rivka’s instructions (who herself was acting based on God’s will), hopes that he is discovered in the process, and feels remorse for his actions after the fact. Yet, despite all that Yaakov still tricks his father, and this behavior cannot be excused by his uneasy feelings about the situation. Still, he is called a man of truth. The Gemara (Makkot 24a) indicates that Yaakov is a man of emet not only despite of this act of trickery, but precisely because of the uneasy feelings he felt while doing this act he is the quintessential man of truth.

Shabbat Shalom!

comments: shira.sohn@gmail.com