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Name Withheld II

By Rabbi Daniel Travis

Shimon and Levi are a pair; instruments of violence are their wares. Let my soul not enter their plot; may my honor not be associated with them. (Bereshith 49:5,6)

Yaakov prayed that when the Torah described the spies and Korach’s rebellion, his name would be omitted from their lineage.1 As mentioned previously, the exclusion of Yaakov’s name implies that these acts were not motivated by character traits inherited from Yaakov.2 However, it is difficult to understand what Yaakov’s intentions were. If these actions did stem from him, how could Yaakov pray that his name would be left out of these stories? On the other hand, if it was not true, why did Yaakov “suspect” the Torah would write something false?

Yaakov is the symbol of truth, as the verse testifies, “Give truth to Yaakov.”3 It is therefore clear that these rebellions, which were acts of total falsehood, in no way stemmed from Yaakov. It is possible that Korach and the spies were falsely encouraged to rebel against the leadership of the Jewish people based on the way they misconstrued Yaakov’s act of taking the blessings from his brother Esav. Therefore Yaakov prayed that even if they did learn from him, his name should not be written in association with the rebellion, in order that people should not incorrectly assume that their actions stemmed directly from Yaakov’s personality traits.

In analyzing this complex episode in Jewish history we cannot ignore the following question: if the spies and Korach did learn from Yaakov, does this not throw some of the responsibility onto Yaakov’s shoulders? Is this not sufficient reason to write Yaakov’s name in association with their rebellions?

“The ways of God are straight; the righteous traverse them while the crooked stumble on them.”4 Often the very same path that the righteous take to arrive at truth can be used by the crooked for the sake of furthering falsehood. Yaakov acted solely with the intention of fulfilling God’s will and therefore the Torah did not concern itself with individuals who will try to misinterpret and distort his actions.

In the same vein, the Gemara poses the following inquiry: Should it list numerous ways that storekeepers could unknowingly cheat their clientele, in order to prevent them from inadvertently doing so, or is it preferable to omit these halachoth in order to prevent dishonest people from learning from these examples how to deceive their customers? Based on the above verse, the Gemara concludes that the proper course of action is to ignore the danger of crooked individuals, and to write these halachoth for the sake of the upright who wish to safeguard themselves from cheating others.5


1. Sanhedrin 109b.

2. See previous essay.

3. Michah 7:20.

4. Hosheah 14:10.

5. Bava Bathra 99b.


Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org


 

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