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Rabbi Katchen on Parashat Toldot

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“Truth” is on the tip of everyone’s tongues these days. We live in a climate in which the people who don’t think like us are adversaries and liars. I am troubled when lying plays out in the political arena, but am consoled by the words of the Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, who died in 1905), who pointed out that this is not new. Our world is a world of deceits and lies. People lack the ability to be completely honest – to others and themselves! The average person must work against the tide to be vigilant in honesty. But what about the righteous person?

In our parashah, we encounter our ancestor Jacob explicitly lying to his father to receive the divine blessing intended for his twin brother, Esau, who was born first.

There are commentators that attempt to play with the text to either flip, or at least limit, the deceit. Most notable is Rav A.Y. Kook, whose beautiful reading of the text has Jacob harnessing all of Esau’s positive traits, so that he is not lying when he addresses his blind father, Isaac, and says that he is Esau – because it is as if he has become Esau.

This doesn’t sit well with me. We do not know what would have happened had Jacob told the truth to his father – how he would manage to receive the divine blessing to become the next ancestor to the Jewish people.

What we do know is God did not revoke the blessing. It was part of the divine plan for the blessing to come to Jacob. But the deceit came at a cost. The remainder of Jacob’s life becomes one where he is deceived by those closest to him. Although destined to become the leader and namesake of our people, Yisra’el, just like the rest of us, his negative actions carried negative consequences from which even he was not immune.