Shalom Rabbi Fried,
In a recent column you wrote that one should always tell the truth, even when adding some falsehood would be of benefit to the Jewish people (such as distributing true Holocaust material that had a mistake in it). You said this was the trait of Jacob, the trait of truth. If that was the case, how could Jacob have tricked his father into giving him the blessings with an entire show of deception?
The answer to your excellent question is found in a deep, profound concept in Jewish thought:
G-d tests an individual with the very trait which that person excels in or personifies. He does so to ensure that this person fulfills that trait truly for the sake of Heaven, and not just because it has become customary or ingrained in the person to be so. If the individual is prepared to forgo his precious trait when deemed necessary to do so to serve G-d, this shows that the ultimate goal of the person is the service of G-d rather than fulfilling that trait for its own sake.
An example of this is Abraham. His trait, the cornerstone and great motivating force of his life and all he did, was that of chesed, lovingkindness. It was precisely in that trait of chesed that the Al-mighty tested him. Abraham was first commanded to leave his home and parents to go to Israel. He was told to send away his son Ishmael, which ran contrary to his nature. And finally, as the greatest test of all, Abraham was told to perform an act which appeared to be completely barbaric, the antithesis of kindness, to sacrifice his own son. By fulfilling G-d’s will without question, pushing aside his ingrained trait of chesed, he confirmed that his pure intention when performing acts of chesed was to serve G-d. If that service would run contrary to his nature and his trait, serving G-d prevailed, and in that merit he became the patriarch of the Jewish people.
Jacob’s core trait was that of truth. Even the trait of truth could, potentially, become rote and second nature, rather than as a vehicle to serve G-d. Therefore, Jacob was tested precisely with that trait in which he excelled and developed as the centerpiece of his greatness.
Jacob was commanded by his mother, Rivkah, based upon her prophecy, to perform deception to receive the blessings. She was told prophetically that “the elder one will serve the younger one” (Genesis 25:23). The Midrash explains, further, that Rivkah saw that G-d prevented Esau from returning by untying all his trapped animals, to leave time for Jacob to fulfill this deception. The Midrash also says that Divine intervention caused Isaac to become blind in order for Jacob to carry out Rivkah’s plan. It was clear to Rivkah prophetically that the true recipient of the blessings needed to be Jacob, as only he was fit to be a patriarch of the Jewish people. In fact, he even bought that right from Esau with the lentils, making him the legitimate, legal owner of the birthright.
G-d hid all this from Isaac (he “blinded” him prophetically as well) to make possible the plot of receiving the blessings through deception. All this was to test Jacob if, indeed, he would forgo the trait of truth when it was necessary, based upon prophetic edict, that he do so. The Midrash relates that this deception made Jacob so weak that he couldn’t walk, and the angels had to help him get to his father. He, however, passed the test, showing his service of G-d was complete. In this way he received the blessings, and was not rebuked by his father. On the contrary, Isaac later told Esau, “He [Jacob] should surely be blessed” (ibid 27:33). In this merit, Jacob became a father of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.
Shalom Rabbi Fried,