Vayeitzei – Genesis 28:10 to 32:3- The story of Jacob is filled with trickery, deceit, and dishonesty between Jacob and Esau … Then Jacob and Laben. In the stories we also see effective ways to handle this dishonesty.————-
“And Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. Coming upon a [certain] place, he passed the night there, for the sun was setting; taking one of the stones of the place, he made it his head-rest as he lay down in that place. He dreamed, and lo – a ladder was set on the ground, with its top reaching to heaven and lo – angels of God going up and coming down on it. And lo – the Eternal stood up above it and said, “the Eternal, am the God of your father Abraham and God of Isaac, the land on which you are lying I will give to you and to your descendents….” Upon waking from his sleep Jacob said, “Truly the Eternal is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Gen. 28:10-16)
And so Jacob begins the flight from his the brother from whom he just stold a birthright. And so we begin a series of stories about Jacob… then his children …. And the tale of Joseph in Egypt….. They all seem to take the form of an ancient soap opera. A few years ago I gave them all the title “As the Torah Turns.”
And “turn” it does. Joseph falls in love with Rachel…. But, is tricked in to marrying her sister Leah. After seven years, he marries Rachel. However, it is Leah that has child after child before Rachel gives birth to Joseph.
If that isn’t enough, Laban, the father of Leah and Rachel forces Jacob to work 14 years for the wives…. Then, another seven years. As pay Jacob agrees to take all the spotted lambs when he leaves for his parent’s home. However, Laben removes all the spotted lambs… Jacob then mates the remaining flock to produce healthy spoted lambs, leaving the sickly lambs for Laben….. Trick after trick…. And response after response…. Truly a good “soap opera.”
But, the reoccurring question that always comes up ….. WHAT HAS THIS GOT TO DO WITH US TODAY?
This story is filled with trickery, deceit, and dishonesty between Jacob and Esau…. Then between Laben and Jacob.
How does one confront dishonesty?…. In researching his parsha, I came across a discussion that answers this question in A Torah Commentary For Our Times (Harvey Fields, editor, vol. 1, p.76-9) Fields points out that in the Torah, Jacob’s first response to Laban’s trickery regarding his marriage to Leah instead of Rachel was to confront Laben with a series of questions. “What is this that you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I have been in your service? Why did you deceive me?
It was almost as if Jacob was conducting an investigation and trying to sort out Laban’s motives … or maybe he was testing his memory as to their agreement. His questions were not phrased in anger or even hostility. When Laben told Jacob that it was the custom to marry the older daughter first… Jacob seemed to accept it without protest. Maybe he accepted out of guilt for the way he took his brother’s birthright. Many commentators agree. Others point out that Jacob may have been naïve and believed Laban because he was his mother’s brother.
Later things were different when Laben attempted to take all the sheep from Jacob, the promised flock. Torah interpreter Nahama Leibowitz writes “Torah teaches us an instructive lesson in human conduct and self control. Anger should be deferred till the last possible moment, till there is no other alternative – only as a last resort.” (Studies in Bereshit, p.341) Leibowitz also calls attention to the fact that the answer to Laban’s dishonesty by Jacob was “controlled anger.” It was not a wild outburst … by carefully thought out.
Laban then goes after Jacob when he flees Laban’s household. Laban confronts Jacob with questions. “What did you mean by keeping me in the dark and carrying off my daughters like captives?” Rather than losing his temper, Jacob calmly reminds Laban that he had faithfully worked for him for twenty years. He points out that he had earned everything he had taken. Leibowitz points out that Jacob’s response might have been an angry confrontation. But, Jacob kept his dignity. Jacob was a model for handling those who cheat us.
Harvey Fields points out that another way to handle cheaters and liars is to expose them publicly. This bring satisfaction to the injured party and warns others not to practice deceit. Going back to Jacob, we see that he confronts Laban in a private conversation. It is kept within the family and not brought to the marketplace to expose Laban.
Rabbi Israel Meir Ha-Cohen (1838-1933) in his book that became one of the most popular treatments of Jewish ethics, Hafetz Chaim, taught that exposing a cheating or deceitful person was permitted if it helped the injured party and protected others. But, the noted that seven conditions should be met:
- You must have hard evidence, not rumors
- You must be absolutely certain that deceit took place … then think it over before publicly announcing it.
- You must confront the dishonest person privately seeking to change the faulty behavior.
- You must not exaggerate the facts.
- You must examine the motives, making sure that you are not acting out of your own selfish reasons.
- You must try all other ways to solve the situation without the use of slander.
- You must not bring more harm to the dishonest person than a court might bring to the person if found guilty.
No one wants to be taken advantage of or cheated. Confrontation in such cases can be difficult. Our choices are often similar to Jacob’s. How will we react? Anger? Confrontation? Or do nothing… wait … and give the person a second chance? … Or do we act in a calm reasonable way with concern and no hostility?
The choice Jacob made shows his growth. He left his home and brother with a legacy of trickery and deceit. He is now returning a man of strength, reason, integrity.