A Life of Deceit by Yehuda Koslowe


In Parashat VaYeitzei, Lavan deceives Ya’akov and gives him Leah as a wife, even though Ya’akov Avinu had been promised Rachel as a wife. Lavan justifies his deception by stating that “Lo Yei’aseh Chein BiMekomeinu Lateit Et HaTze’irah Lifnei HaBechirah,” “It is not so done in our place, to give the younger before the first-born” (BeReishit 29:26). This is not the first incident in Ya’akov’s life in which there was deception regarding the Bechorah. In Parashat Toledot, we are told of Ya’akov two-step deception of Eisav to receive the privileges associated with being the Bechor. He first takes advantage of Eisav in his state of physical fatigue and trades red pottage for the Bechorah (25: 29-34). Later in the Parashah, Ya’akov heeds Rivkah’s advice and deceives Yitzchak into bestowing upon him the Berachah intended for the Bechor (27:23-29). It seems that Lavan’s deception of Ya’akov in which Lavan used the privileges associated with being the eldest child to trick Ya’akov was a direct punishment for Ya’akov’s taking the Bechorah from Eisav in a dishonest fashion.

In addition to this punishment which Ya’akov receives relatively soon after deceiving Eisav, Ya’akov seems to receive many long-term punishments for his guile. Later in Ya’akov’s life, his daughter Dinah is abducted by Shechem. Using desperate measures, Ya’akov’s sons Shimon and Levi trick the people of Shechem into circumcising themselves by telling them that if they do so, they will have permission to keep Dinah. The people of Shechem follow the request, and on the third day after their circumcisions, when they are physically weak, Shimon and Levi massacre the male population of Shechem (34:13-25). When Ya’akov hears what his sons have done, he tells Shimon and Levi that they have endangered the entire family, because the Kena’ani and Perizi have the power to join forces and eliminate Ya’akov’s entire family. Ya’akov Avinu seems to never forgive Shimon and Levi for their actions, as he chastises them even on his deathbed for their heinous actions in Shechem (49:5-6).

In describing Shimon and Levi’s actions in Shechem, the Torah writes that they acted “BeMirmah,” “with guile” (34:13). The only other time this phrase is used in the Torah is when Yitzchak explains to Eisav that Ya’akov had received the Bechorah for acting “BeMirmah” (27:35). It appears that Ya’akov’s trait of quick-minded deception which he used early in his life was passed onto his children. We could suggest that the cause of Ya’akov’s immense pain was his realization that his trait of deception was passed to his children.

Not only was Ya’akov’s trait of deception inherited by his children, but it continued to affect Ya’akov Avinu’s descendants, Bnei Yisrael, for many generations. The epitome of cowardly deception is Amaleik, the nation which attacked Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar. In Sefer Devarim’s recounting of Amaleik’s attack, the Torah states that Bnei Yisrael were attacked “VeAtah Ayeif VeYagei’a,” “and you were faint and weary” (25:18). The only other time a character in Tanach is described as being “Ayeif” is Eisav when he returned from the field in a tired state (BeReishit 29:30). In Eisav’s weakened  state, Ya’akov took advantage of his brother and traded him food for the far more valuable Bechorah. It is possible to suggest that Bnei Yisrael were attacked by the Amaleikim, the direct descendants of Eisav, as a punishment for Ya’akov’s taking advantage of Eisav.

It is interesting to note that the Torah’s recounting of Ya’akov taking the Bechorah from Eisav is the first story we are told about Ya’akov Avinu’s life. Ya’akov’s deception, which was apparent from the beginning of his life, remained a part of him until the day he died. Even on his deathbed, he was pained that his children had inherited this characteristic. Ya’akov Avinu’s life highlights the importance of our actions, even when we are young, because our actions mold our characters and the legacy we ultimately will have.

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