The Consequences of Deceit
Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )
Bereishit, 29:25: “And it was in the morning, behold it was Leah…!”
Bereishit Rabbah, 70:19: “He (Yaakov) said to her (Leah), What?! You are a deceiver the daughter of a deceiver! Did I not call in the night, ‘Rachel’ and you answered me?” She said to him, “And is there not a teacher without students…Didn’t your father cry out, ‘Esav’ and you answered him?
Yefat Toar: “Just like you lied in order to fulfil your mother’s command, so too I lied to fulfil my father’s command, and I learnt to do that from you!
In last week’s Torah Portion of Toldot, Yaakov, famously misleads his father at the command of his mother, in order that Yaakov receives the blessing that Yitzchak planned to give to Esav. The commentaries offer a number of explanations as to why this was justified.1 Yet in this week’s Portion, Vayetsei, there are a number of difficulties that Yaakov faces which seem to be directly measure for measure for his actions in deceiving Yitzchak.
One example is in the episode of Lavan’s deceit of Yaakov in switching Rachel for Leah. The Midrash states that when Yaakov indignantly accuses Leah of lying, she replies that she learnt from his deceit of Yitzchak. The obvious question is, if Yaakov was permitted and indeed obligated to mislead Yitzchak why did he suffer the consequences with Leah?
Another echo in Vayetsei of his actions in Toldot is the repetition of the exact words in both stories. When Esav discovers Yaakov’s deception, the Torah tells us, “Esav raised his voice and wept.”2 In the beginning of Vayetsei, when Yaakov first meets Rachel, the Torah uses the exact same lashon: “And he raised his voice and wept.”3 What is the connection between these two episodes? One explanation of Rashi of why Yaakov wept is because he did not have any money or property to bring to Rachel. Esav had sent his son, Eliphaz to kill Yaakov, but Yaakov persuaded him to not harm him, rather to take all his belongings, because a poor person is considered as if he is dead. Thus, the fact that Yaakov had nothing to give Rachel was a direct consequence of his misleading of Yitzchak, as it led to Eliphaz chasing Yaakov and taking everything from him.4 This again indicates that Yaakov was in some way punished for his actions with Yitzchak.5
Another example of a damaging consequence of Yaakov’s trickery is found in the Midrash6 – when Esav discovered what had happened he let out a great cry of pain.7 Hundreds of years later, measure for measure, Yaakov’s descendant, Mordechai, let out a similar kind of cry when Haman, Esav’s descendant, decreed the destruction of the Jewish people. Again, this begs the question, why should Yaakov or his descendants be punished for a justifiable course of action?
This question can be answered based on a Netsiv who discusses the Midrash about Mordechai. The Netsiv notes that Yitzchak also endured great pain when he heard that he had been tricked – the Torah relates that he trembled greatly when he realized what had happened. Why, then was Yaakov not punished for the pain he caused Yitzchak, while he was punished for that which he inflicted on Esav? He answers that Yaakov had absolutely no pleasure at the pain that he caused Yitzchak in deceiving him, therefore he was not punished for the pain that Yitzchak experienced. However, he felt some small measure of happiness at Esav’s distress. Accordingly, he was punished for that element of joy he felt at Esav’s loss. Thus, we see, according to the Netsiv, that even Yaakov, on some slight level, was subject to the feeling of joy at success at the expense of someone else.8
This approach can be used to explain the other sources that teach that Yaakov was punished for his actions in taking the blessings. Even though he was correct to mislead Yitzchak and Esav, nonetheless, he was held to account according to his lofty level, for the fact that he had some small enjoyment at the suffering of Esav.
Most of us are not put in situations where we need to lie based on a Prophecy, so how do these ideas apply to us? There are a number of Mitzvot that can involve causing pain or harm to someone else – the most common are rebuke which can often hurt the person being rebuked, or constructive negative speech which can cause him damage at times. However, if a person does one of these Mitzvot with even a small measure of impure intentions or in the wrong way, then the potential Mitzva can be transformed into a sin. For example, if one rebukes his fellow in public, then he transgresses the serious sin of embarrassing someone in public.9 Likewise, there are seven conditions for speaking constructive lashon hara, and one of them is that the speaker cannot have any person enjoyment from the negative speech. If he does, then his speech falls into the category of forbidden lashon hara.
Accordingly, it is very important for a person to learn the laws of these Mitzvot carefully, receive guidance about how to proceed, and to be intellectually honest about his true intentions.
- One approach is that he was allowed to lie because his actions were based on the Prophecy that Rivka received that Yaakov should receive the blessings. Another approach is that it is permitted to lie in order to outwit someone who is a liar himself as was the case with Esav who misled his father to think that he was righteous. See Emet L’Yaakov, Netsiv.
- Bereishit, 27:38.
- Bereishit, 29:11.
- It is also interesting to note that Yaakov was forced to encourage Eliphaz himself to lie in order to avoid killing him. This may appear to fit with the principle that Aveirah goreret Aveirah – one bad deed leads to another – although obviously it was permitted for Yaakov to tell Eliphaz to do this, nonetheless, for a man of Truth it went against his core values.
- This approach is based on, “Jacob’s Deceit of Isaac and Esau”, by Rabbi David Fohrman.
- Esther Rabbah, 8:1.
- Bereishit 27:34.
- HaEmek Dvar, Bereishis, 27:9, Harchev Dvar, os 1.
- There are certain instances where it is permitted to rebuke someone in public but they are very limited and this should only be done with guidance from a Rav who is well-versed in these areas.