This week's "Guest Lecturer" is Rabbi Shmuel Goldstein of Congregation
Ahavas Yisroel of Denver, CO.
If we were to look for underlying themes in this week's Torah reading, one
would certainly be deceit. Lavan cheats Yaakov by replacing Rachel with
Leah. Later, Lavan acts with duplicity by continually changing Yaakov's
wages. Then, Yaakov tries his hand at deceit by sneaking away from Lavan
without as much as a "goodbye," at the end of a twenty-year stay. (And
while we're mentioning it, let's not forget Yaakov and Rivka's ploy from
last week's parsha of deceiving Yitzchak for the blessings.)
As is the case with so much in the Torah, one needs to look a bit more
behind the simple external reading to understand the lessons being taught.
Through the eyes of our Sages, we see that Lavan's lies and deceit were for
his own benefit. His approach in life was like the Mafioso who robs you of
everything you own and then declares, with enough insincerity to curdle
your intestines, "What!?! Me? Would I ever hurt you? You're my best
friend." His name is Lavan. It means white in Hebrew. He's Mr. Squeaky
Clean. If you don't catch him red-handed, then he didn't do it.
In contradistinction to Lavan is Yaakov. Despite what we see from the
Torah, the oral tradition and the mystical teachings tell us that Yaakov is
the personal embodiment of Truth. Just as Avraham is the pillar of kindness
in the world, Yaakov is the pillar of Truth. What is this thing called
truth if Yaakov, one who deceives, is the one to teach it? He seems to be
far from truth.
There are two points to elucidate for our discussion to understand truth.
First is that truth is not only saying what is true as we normally
understand it. Truth is the means to bring out the glory of G-d's presence
in this world. It is found at an inner place of consistently seeking out
the Divine Will. When one stays at this very high level of holiness, of
continually seeking to bring out the G-d's glory, he has found truth.
If your name was Fred and a madman approached you with his AK47 poised and
asked, "Are you Fred? I've got some business with him," the appropriate
response (at least as this Fred understands things) is "no, but he just
went that way." Truth here means to keep yourself alive.
When can one justify this decision to deceive? Once we're granted Divine
permission to tell "white lies," where do we stop? How does one divine what
The Torah is called truth. Because it is a revelation of G-d's will, when
one has delved deeply enough into the Torah, he becomes a person who knows
what is right. Through years of study, one can learn when the saying of
true words gives way to a higher truth (of staying alive in the case of our
friend Fred or of keeping the burgeoning holy nation intact in the case of
Yaakov "lying" to Yitzchak and Lavan).
The second point of clarification for this discussion is that Avraham,
Yitzchak, and Yaakov represent an idea of thesis, antithesis, and
synthesis. Avraham is, as noted above, the pillar of chesed, of an
overabundance of loving kindness. His son, Yitzchak, represents gevurah,
the pillar of discipline, holding to proper boundaries in order to further
development. He carves the path that enables his descendants to have the
ability to draw lines and set limits -- the antithesis of kindness, which
is an overflowing past one's boundaries. Yaakov is the pillar of truth; he
is Torah. His path, the synthesis, teaches us the harmonic blend: when to
apply the openness of kindness, and when to use the trait of making and
The truth is staying connected to what is right and not being controlled by
our natural desires. Sometimes we have desires to be open when the correct
response is border control. At other times, we want to set a limit where
the correct response is to show boundless love.
There is one other example of deceit in our parsha, that illustrates this
idea. When Yaakov and his family flee from the house of Lavan, Rachel
steals her father's idols in order to try to stop him from this brand of
pernicious spirituality. When he catches up with Yaakov's camp, he searches
all of the tents for his stolen idols. Rachel's tent is the last one he
searches (perhaps because she is the least suspicious). But she has learned
the trait of truth; she knows that for the purpose of destroying idol
worship, one must deceive if necessary.
What is her deceit? The idols are hidden in the camel's packsaddle. She is
sitting on them and doesn't get up when her father, Lavan, comes into the
tent. She excuses herself from rising for her father because "the way of
women" was upon her (Gen. 31:35).
A camel is symbolic of kindness. Its ability to carry water for such great
distances is a great gift. Also, the root of the word camel in Hebrew
(gamal) is the same as the word to bestow (gomel).
In mystical thought, the female energy is the energy of gevurah, the energy
of setting limits in order to further development. Through our holy mother
Rachel, these ideas all culminate. She perfects the harnessing of the
chesed and gevurah, symbolized by the camel and her own femininity, to help
destroy an aspect of idol worship. She understands all of these ideas of
what truth is, and she knows that she needs to be deceptive if that's what
the Divine truth calls for. She understands that truth is bringing out the
glory of G-d.
Text Copyright © 2001 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.