• S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program

  • Peirot Haaretz  

    Vayeitzei

    Yoni Kram 

    Yeshivat Hakotel 

     

    One of the major themes throughout this week’s parsha is treachery. It appears in the very first time that Laban meets Yaakov – which the Midrash explains that his embrace was merely a ploy to feel for any coins that Yaakov may have been hiding. The acts of deception then escalade to higher stakes as seen from Laban’s ruse in switching Rachel and Leah. Yaakov ultimately also tricks Laban in return in order to take appropriate wages for his work. From start to end, the Yaakov – Laban relationship is characterized by successive acts of trickery.

                When Yaakov first meets Rachel he says to her, ki achi aviha hu v’chi ben rivka hu (Bereishis 29:12), meaning he was her father’s brother and Rivka’s son. Rashi quotes the Midrash which explains this introduction as Yaakov telling Rachel that if Laban comes to deceive him, he is his brother in deception (in that he will be able to match his deceptive abilities), but if he comes in peace, Yaakov is also Rivka’s son and can match his decency. The Gur Aryeh explains that Rachel was having doubts about going through with the marriage in fear that Laban would cheat them. Yaakov therefore introduces himself in this way to assure her that he can match Laban’s chicanery.

                A question one may ask is how can it be that Yaakov Avinu thought he was able to match Laban’s trickery? The Midrash teaches us that Laban is described as laban ha’arami in reference to his unmatched ability to cheat – as hinted to by the linguistic congruence between the words arami (the place he was from) to ramai (a cheater). Surely Yaakov Avinu, who is described as ish tam (Bereishis 25:30), meaning a wholesome man which Rashi describes as “one who is not sharp in deceiving” could not match Laban in that regard. Thus the question becomes, from where does the “wholesome” Yaakov muster the confidence to challenge Laban the cheater?

                When relaying the story of Yaakov and Rachel’s meeting and how Yaakov assured her that he was up to matching Laban’s challenge, the gemara in Megilla (13b) explains that Rachel herself asked him a similar question. She asked, “Are the righteous permitted to act deceitfully?” Yaakov responded that yes, it is permitted based on the verse, im navar titavar, vim ikesh titapal (Samuel II 22:27), meaning “with a pure person you act purely and with a crooked person you act crookedly”. Yaakov explained to her that being honest does not mean that one should let oneself be taken advantage of. On the contrary, when one feels that he is being slighted he must stand up for himself, as Yaakov ultimately did when the time was right. Yaakov’s “wholesomeness” stems from his natural inclination towards honesty, but it is no less “wholesome” to stand up against evil.

     

Yeshiva University
500 West 185th Street
New York, NY 10033
212.960.5400

Connect With YU