"Anochi (It is I), Esav your firstborn." (Bereshith 27:19)
Yaakov is the symbol of truth, as the verse testifies, “Give truth to
Yaakov.” 1 How could God command him to
deceive his father Yitzchak?2 While at
face value Yaakov’s words may not appear honest, Rashi explains that he
said, “It is I; Esav is your firstborn,” which was not saying anything
untrue,3 although this was obviously
misunderstood by Yitzchak. Once he had purchased the rights of the
firstborn from Esav, Yaakov was entitled to the blessings,4 and it was not deception, since deception is defined
as a person tricking someone in order to get something that is not
rightfully his. When Yaakov entered his father’s room he conveyed to
Yitzchak: I am coming in place of Esav your firstborn. For this very
reason, God later gave Yaakov the name Yisrael, which derives from the
Hebrew word yashar, meaning “straight.” This new name indicates that
although it may seem that Yaakov acquired the blessings through a crooked
act, it was actually an act of truth and straightness.5
In analyzing this complex episode in Jewish history we cannot ignore the
following issue: since Yaakov was so exceptionally upright, why did God
place him in a situation in which he would need to act in a way that
seemed underhanded? Although we are never capable of fully understanding
God’s actions, one thing is quite clear: all punishment is meted out
measure for measure.6 How was Esav’s
punishment measure for measure?
Esav used to ask Yitzchak halachic questions to trick his father into
thinking that these issues were important to him.7 While on the outside he acted righteously, internally
there was not an iota of honesty motivating him. Therefore his behavior is
compared to a pig’s: just as the pig holds up its split hooves, trying to
convince people that it is kosher although it is not (for a pig does not
chew its cud), so did Esav outwardly show himself to be righteous and
truthful.8 For this reason, God wanted
Esav to be punished in a way that appeared deceitful, in order to make it
clear to him and to others what was really motivating him.
The Gemara tells us that once a man made a party and inadvertently invited
his enemy, Bar Kamtza, instead of his friend, whose name was Kamtza. When
the man saw his enemy in attendance at his party he became infuriated, and
literally threw him out of the banquet hall. Bar Kamtza sought to take
revenge on those who had witnessed his disgrace. He went to the Roman
emperor and reported that the Jews were planning a rebellion. The
emperor’s reaction eventually led to the destruction of the Temple.9
We may well ask, why did Bar Kamtza have to lie to the Roman emperor? If
he wanted to libel the Jewish People, surely he could have found something
true to say, which would likewise have sparked the emperor’s attack on
Jerusalem. Bar Kamtza’s lie initiated God’s punishment of the Jewish
People for their own false behavior. The Jews at the time had been acting
nicely to one another outwardly, but their hearts were filled with hatred
for their fellow Jews. Because their behavior was rooted in deceitfulness,
their punishment came through Bar Kamtza’s lie.10
1 Michah 7:20.
2 See previous article.
3 Rashi, Rabbeinu Bachyeh, Malbim, Or HaChaim on Bereshith
4 According to the Zohar, Esav had actually willingly given
the privileges of the firstborn son to Yaakov many years previous to the
actual sale of the birthright, but had not officially documented it. The
sale was only a method of proving that the birthright rightfully belonged
5 Alshich Bereshith 35:10.
6 See the article on Bereshith 18:15 entitled “The Punishment
Fits The Crime,” (page 101).
7 Rashi, Bereshith 25:27.
8 Rashi, Bereshith 26:34. See also the article
entitled “Hypocrisy,” (page 161) on this verse.
9 Gittin 55b.
10 Heard from Rav Shlomo Brevda.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org