One of the seminal stories in B’resheet occupies the latter half of this week’s Parashah: Ya’akov’s successful “masquerade” by which he gains Yitzhak’s primary blessing, the one which he (apparently) intended to grant to Esav.
There are many profound and significant issues raised in this narrative, including (but not limited to):
a) Why did Yitzhak only “have” one B’rakhah to give, such that when the real Esav showed up, he seemed to be “out of B’rakhot”;
b) Why does a B’rakhah given to the “wrong person” have any validity;
c) Was Yitzhak really unaware of who the recipient was,
d) Why did Yitzhak request venison, prepared according to his taste, in advance of the B’rakhah?
e) What are we to make of the exclamation: “The voice is the voice of Ya’akov but the hands are the hands of Esav”
f) What is the relationship between the pair of B’rakhot relating to the “fat of the land” (27:28-29 and 27:39-40) and the Avrahamic blessing clearly intended for Ya’akov (28:3-4).
We will not investigate any of these (except, perhaps, tangentially); instead, we will focus on both the roots and the results of Ya’akov’s masquerade (including Rivkah’s role in this deception). When Ya’akov dressed up in hairy clothes, brought goat-meat seasoned (by Rivkah) to taste like venison and declared “I am Esav, your eldest”, he successfully received the blessing which was evidently intended for Esav. This act of cunning (*Mirmah*) had both early roots in the Avrahamic family – and significant and powerful ramifications within the Ya’akovian clan.
In this analysis, we will endeavor to discover the origins of this type of behavior (and various analogues), along with identifying the difference between appropriate (and morally justified) utilization of these traits and the unacceptable excesses which are found in some of the less savory characters in Sefer B’resheet.
By way of introduction, I’d like to pose a question on a well-known – but not well-understood – Midrash.
At the beginning of the Bikkurim recitation, the worshipper avows: “My father was a wandering Aramean” (D’varim 26:56). All “p’shat-driven” commentaries identify this “father” as either Avraham or Ya’akov; both of whom were wanderers and both came from Aram (although Ya’akov was not born there, that was the terminus of his wandering). The well-known Midrash which introduces one of the two core sections of the Haggadah, identifies this “Aramean” as Lavan, Rivkah’s brother and Ya’akov’s father-in-law. (In order to do this, the Midrash must change the grammatical sense of *Oved*, but we’ll save that for another essay).
What is the connection between our wandering father (Avraham or Ya’akov) and Lavan? Why would we possibly want to substitute Lavan for one of the Avot?
In order to answer this, we’ll have to investigate the chain of events leading up to – and resulting from – Ya’akov’s successful deception of Yitzhak.
What is the earliest example of deception in Avraham’s family? Although the Midrash suggests such behavior on the part of Haran in Avraham’s pre-Aliyah days (see B’resheet Rabbah 38:13) , the T’nakh itself presents the first episode near the beginning of the Avraham narrative:
[as Avraham and Sarah are about to enter Egypt:] “Say, I beg you, that you are my sister; that it may be well with me for your sake; and my soul shall live because of you.” (12:13)
This scene is, of course, repeated in Avraham’s later sojourn to Philistine territory:
And Avraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister”; and Avimelekh king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. (20:2)
Unlike his interaction with Pharaoh, Avraham provides a defense for his misleading Avimelekh:
“And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is your kindness which you shall show to me; at every place where we shall come, say of me, “He is my brother”.’ ” (20:12-13)
Avraham held that deception in such a case was not only ethically defensible – it was a moral obligation (in order to preserve life – his own). This position was validated by God Himself in the interaction with Sarah regarding her reaction to the tidings of the miracle birth of Yitzhak:
Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I am grown old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” (18:12)
[yet, when God raises this with Avraham, He only says:] And Hashem said to Avraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old ‘ ? ” (v. 13)
The Gemara is sensitive to this shift and notes:
One may modify a statement in the interests of peace…at the School of R. Yishma’el it was taught: Great is the cause of peace. Seeing that for its sake even the Holy One, blessed be He, modified a statement; for at first it is written, “My lord being old”, while afterwards it is written, “And I am old”. (BT Yevamot 65b)
In other words, God Himself misled Avraham, omitting Sarah’s concerns about his age, in order to maintain peace in the household (*Shalom Bayit*). If so, it was certainly appropriate for Avraham to mislead Pharaoh and Avimelekh – in order to protect himself – about the nature of his relationship with Sarah. [I refer to this as “misleading” or “deceptive” as opposed to “lying” since, as we see from Avraham’s defense, his story was not untrue – it was just (significantly) incomplete].
We find one more instance of “modifying words” in the Avraham narrative – although it isn’t Avraham himself who does so.
Chapter 24, the longest chapter in B’resheet (and the core of last week’s Parashah), is the story of Eliezer’s mission to find a wife for Yitzhak.
[Although the text does not refer to him by name, instead calling him “the slave of Avraham” – which is relevant to our analysis, Rabbinic tradition identifies him with the Eliezer mentioned in 15:2. For the sake of brevity, we will utilize this identification here.]
This story is presented in a loquacious manner; first we are told about Avraham’s oath, administered to his slave (vv. 2-9); then we hear about the servant’s journey to Aram and his prayer at the well (10-14); immediately, Rivkah comes out and proves to be the realization of that prayer (15-25). Subsequently, the slave is brought to her house (26-33) and he retells the entire story, beginning with some background about himself, Avraham, Sarah and Yitzhak (34-36), repeating the terms of the oath (37-41), retelling the story of his prayer (42-44), and retelling Rivkah’s kindness to him and his animals (45-47).
Why is this story repeated? Rashi (v. 42), quoting the Midrash (B’resheet Rabbah 60:8), notes that “the idle chatter of the slaves of the Patriarchal homes is dearer than the Torah of their children”, but does not explain why this is the case.
Nearly all classical commentators (Acharonim as well as Rishonim – including Rashi himself), note the repetition of Avraham’s oath and of the interaction between the slave and Rivkah at the well, pointing to one or more of the variations between the versions. For example, Rashi notes that even though the slave gave her the jewelry before finding out her name or family:
And it came to pass, as the camels finished drinking, that the man took a golden ear ring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold; And said, “Whose daughter are you?” (vv. 22-23; note, however, Ramban at v. 22);
The report was a bit different:
“And she hurried, and let down her water jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels drink also’; so I drank, and she made the camels drink also. And I asked her, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Betu’el, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him’; and I put the ear ring on her face, and the bracelets on her hands.” (vv. 46-47)
Rashi explains that Eliezer modified his words so that the wouldn’t “catch him in his words, saying ‘Why did you give these to her before you knew who she was?’ “.
[Interested readers are directed to the Netziv and Malbim for fascinating analyses of the variations between the Torah narrative and Eliezer’s version.]
In sum, we find that Avraham (and members of his household), utilized their words judiciously when there was a life-threatening situation or when there was an overriding interest at stake – which was not self-directed. According to the Midrash, Eliezer was interested in the failure of his mission, as he wanted to have his own daughter marry Yitzhak; in any case, it wasn’t his own interests which were being promoted via his altered statements.
Perhaps this is why the slave is referred to, throughout Chapter 24 (where he is one of the two central figures) as *Eved Avraham*, rather than by name (which we don’t ever learn – see last week’s posting); it is truly his ability to utilize this skill learned in Avraham’s household which assists in the success of his mission.
In addressing the focal story of our Parashah – the “masquerade”, we have to take two things into account:
1) Rivkah, who was the force behind the deception, was privy to information about her sons which, evidently, she did not share with Yitzhak:
And the children struggled together inside her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of Hashem. And Hashem said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” (25:22-23) Ya’akov was destined to rule over Esav – to which end she wanted to ensure that he received the preferred blessing. (Again, it is beyond the scope of this essay to analyze the role of these blessings in family position and power).
2) Rivkah was the sister of Lavan, the master deceiver. Note how the Midrash comments on her identification, at the beginning of our Parashah, as
“the daughter of Betu’el the Aramean of Padan-Aram, the sister to Lavan the Aramean”:
This teaches that her father was a deceiver (a play on the close relationship between the word *Rama’i* meaning “deceiver” and *Arami* – “Aramean”), her brother was a deceiver and the people in her locale were like that, and this righteous woman came out from there. (B’resheet Rabbah 63:4)
It is not surprising that Rivkah utilized this talent to ensure that the Divine Mandate – Ya’akov receiving the favored blessing – took place. This was certainly not a case of self-interest, as the result of this deception was Ya’akov’s forced exile for twenty years; according to the Midrash, Ya’akov never saw his beloved mother again (see Rashi at 35:8).
It is prudent to point out that Yitzhak also engaged in this type of behavior – once:
And Yitzhak lived in Gerar; And the men of the place asked him about his wife; and he said, “She is my sister”; for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rivkah; because she was pretty to look upon. (26:6-7)
Although Yitzhak was prepared to act deceitfully in a situation similarly dangerous to those of his father, Rivkah was still able to mislead him (twice – look carefully at 27:42-46). Why wasn’t Yitzhak more attuned to guile?
In Avraham’s defense of his misleading Avimelekh, there is a phrase which may clarify something about the Avot and those rare circumstances when they were prepared to act deceptively:
And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is your kindness which you shall show to me; at every place where we shall come, say of me, “He is my brother”.’ “;
In other words, Avraham was only willing to act this way when he was in a state of wandering. The natural vulnerability experienced by the stranger necessitates the occasional use of deception to survive (witness the thousands of Jews who were saved by forged papers, sham marriages, made-up adoptions etc. while escaping the horrors of the Sho’ah).
Note that roughly half of Avraham’s post-Lekh-L’kha life was lived “on the run” (see our shiur on Parashat Vayera regarding the journey’s of Avraham); nevertheless, the only two incidents of deception were in specific “traveling” situations – in Egypt and G’rar. Similarly, Avraham’s elder slave was a stranger in Aram when he spoke so “carefully” – and this was the case with Yitzhak, who only deceived once: When he was in G’rar and afraid for his life.
Once Yitzhak – who was the only one of the Avot who was “settled” during most of his life – was back home, there was no need to operate in this fashion.
It took Rivkah, who, like Avraham, (see our shiur on Hayyei Sarah) was a transplant in K’na’an and who had the inside information on Ya’akov and Esav, to set up the necessary circumstances to successfully deceive Yitzhak into giving Ya’akov the blessing.
Let’s take a quick look at several later incidents of *Mirmah* in the family of Ya’akov:
1) Ya’akov’s entire relationship with his uncle and father-in-law was one of deceit – Lavan cheated Ya’akov out of his promised wife (Rachel) and then, changed his salary ten times:
“Thus have I been twenty years in your house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your cattle; and you have changed my wages ten times.” (41:31) (There is much more for us to investigate regarding the nature of their relationship and the claim of “20 years” – but we’ll leave that for another year)
Yet, our Rabbis note that there is an affinity between Lavan and Ya’akov:
And Ya’akov told Rachel that he was her father’s brother, and that he was Rivkah’s son; (29:12) – In deception, “he was her father’s brother”; In righteousness, “he was Rivkah’s son”. (B’resheet Rabbah 70:13)
The Rabbis take this affinity even further and note that Lavan’s behavior was something of a “payback” to Ya’akov for his deception:
…all night Ya’akov called “Rachel” and Leah responded; in the morning: “Behold she was Leah”. He said to her: “O deceptive one daughter of a deceptive one: All night didn’t I call Rachel and you responded?” Leah answered: “Is there a barber without students? (i.e. even the best barber needs a student who will cut his hair; likewise:) Didn’t your father cry out ‘Esav’ and you responded?” (ibid. 70:19) (more on this a bit later)
2) When Ya’akov returns to Eretz K’na’an, following Avraham’s footsteps, his first stop is Sh’khem. The terrible events which occurred there can be found in Chapter 34 – but note how Ya’akov’s sons (all born in Aram!) respond:
And the sons of Ya’akov answered Sh’khem and Hamor his father deceitfully (*b’Mirmah*, and said, [because he had defiled Dinah their sister]; And they said to them, “We can not do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised; for that would be a reproach to us; But in this will we consent to you; If you will be as we are, that every male of you be circumcised; Then will we give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for us, and we will live with you, and we will become one people.” (34:13-16)
The problems inherent in this Parashah are many; note, however, Ya’akov’s protest against his sons’ behavior:
And Ya’akov said to Shim’on and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me to make me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the K’na’ani and the P’rizi; and I being few in number, they shall gather together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.” (34:30)
In other words, acting deceitfully as a tactic – when justified – is only acceptable when in a temporary place (e.g. Egypt, G’rar, Avraham’s slave in Aram or Ya’akov at Yitzhak’s knee); but you must maintain a reputation for forthrightness among the inhabitants of the land (*Yoshev ha’Aretz*).
Although space limitations mitigate against continuing here, I’d like to use the information presented up to this point to suggest an answer to our question about the Midrash on *Arami Oved Avi* –
When Avraham and Ya’akov were wandering (the “pshat” meaning of the verse), they had to utilize a survival tactic which was morally correct and ethically justified – but only for those circumstances. That behavior – deceit – was personified in one Biblical character – Lavan. Whereas Avraham and Ya’akov (and, in one case, Yitzhak) utilized deceit, Lavan WAS deceit.
Hence, Lavan is the truest example of *Arami Oved Avi* – even in the comfort of home, even when faced with nothing more than the possible gain of a few dollars, he behaved in a way only acceptable for survival – and, then, only when wandering.
There are two additional points relating to this issue which we must address:
a) How do we understand the unpleasant (to say the least) consequences of “justified deceit” which weave their way through the rest of Sefer B’resheet (and, in a more Midrashic vein, through the rest of Jewish History)? If Ya’akov was justified in masquerading as Esav in order to deceive Yitzhak and gain the premier B’rakhah, why does it bear such a heavy personal and historic cost (as we will see further on)?
b) How is it that Lavan is related to Ya’akov? How can Esav be the son of Yitzhak? In other words, why do the great and grand Patriarchs and Matriarchs of our holy nation give birth to such antagonistic characters and have the dubious honor of kinship with the likes of Lavan?
The Mishna (Sotah 1:7) states: “According to one’s behavior, they (Heaven) behave with him.” This kind of retribution is known as *Midah k’Neged Midah* (measure for measure).
This is nowhere exemplified as clearly and consistently in our literature as in the book of B’resheet. The same Lavan who fooled Ya’akov into marrying Leah and then working another 7 years for Rachel was fooled by that same Rachel when she stole his idols. The same Ya’akov who deceived his father in the dark was deceived in the dark when he thought that his new bride was Rachel. Note the comment of the Midrash cited above
…all night Ya’akov called “Rachel” and Leah responded; in the morning: “Behold she was Leah”. He said to her: “O deceptive one daughter of a deceptive one: All night didn’t I call Rachel and you responded?” Leah answered: “Is there a barber without students? (i.e. even the best barber needs a student who will cut his hair; likewise:) Didn’t your father cry out ‘Esav’ and you responded?” (B’resheet Rabbah 70:19)
I’d like to outline the “trail of deception” which dogs the family of Ya’akov throughout Sefer B’resheet. Since we already dealt with the “modified words” of Avraham, his servant and his son, Yitzhak in part I (last week), we’ll begin with Ya’akov himself:
a. Yitzhak is deceived by Ya’akov who is prompted and aided by Rivkah (Ch. 27)
b. Yitzhak is deceived by Rivkah, who claims that she wants to send Ya’akov away for marriage purposes (when it’s really to save his life – 27:46)
c. Lavan fools Ya’akov into marrying Leah before Rachel – thus getting her married off and gaining 7 more “free” years of labor from Ya’akov (29:23-27)
d. Rachel lies to her father about the idols she stole from his house (31:19)
e. Lavan manipulates Ya’akov’s wages “ten times” (31:41)
f. Ya’akov misleads Esav about his plans to join him in Se’ir (33:14)
g. The sons of Ya’akov dupe the citizens of Sh’khem into a mass circumcision – and then pillage the town in revenge for the rape of Dinah (34:13)
h.The brothers fool their father into thinking that Yoseph has been killed by an animal (37:31)
i. Tamar fools Yehudah into thinking that she is a *K’deshah* (38:14-15)
j. Potiphar’s wife lies to her husband, getting Yoseph thrown into the court jail (39:14-20)
k. Yoseph maintains his disguise with his brothers, not revealing their relationship until Yehudah’s bold stand (44:18-34)
l. Yoseph (evidently) has his brothers lie to Pharaoh about their livelihood (46:33-34)
m. The brothers (apparently) lie to Yoseph about Ya’akov’s deathbed wishes (49:17)
In the spirit of the Midrash quoted above – and following the notion of *Midah k’Neged Midah*, it seems clear that at least some of these episodes of deception are causally interrelated. As promised in last week’s essay, we will find that the impact of some of these acts was felt well beyond the chronological parameters of B’resheet – to the furthest ends of Biblical history:
” ‘When Esav heard his father’s words’ (27:34): R. Hanina said: Anyone who claims that God totally forgoes debts will himself be lost; rather, He waits patiently and collects that which is His. In recompense for the one cry that Ya’akov caused Esav to cry out, as it says: ‘When Esav heard his father’s words, he cried out’, he was punished. Where was he punished? In Shushan, as it says: ‘And [Mordechai] cried a great and bitter cry’ (Esther 4:1) (B’resheet Rabbah 67:4)
Before examining the reason behind this causal relationship, I’d like to demonstrate that that relationship indeed exists within these particular instances within Sefer B’resheet.
a) We have already seen that Ya’akov’s masquerade was linked, in the Midrash, to Lavan’s successful deception regarding his daughters. Besides the additional, far-reaching impact felt in the days of Mordechai and Esther, this seems to have set Ya’akov up for not properly recognizing the nature of the relationships between his sons, leading to the Yoseph tragedy. Note how the same animal used to fool Yitzhak into thinking he was eating venison (“for the taste of goat meat is similar to that of venison” – Rashi at 27:9) is used to replicate human blood on Yoseph’s tunic (“[goat’s] blood is similar to that of a human” Rashi at 37:31).
[Parenthetically, and this is an important caveat for the whole topic, we see the Yoseph story as tragic – even though it is not necessarily tragic from every perspective. As Yoseph himself states: “But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it to good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” (50:20) In other words, even though the sale of Yoseph was a tragedy from an internal family perspective, it was a component of salvation and necessary history from the Divine perspective. See B’resheet Rabbah 85:1 – “the tribes were engaged in the sale of Yoseph, Yoseph was engaged in his sackcloth and fasting, Re’uven was engaged in his sackcloth and fasting, Ya’akov was engaged in his sackcloth and fasting, Yehudah was engaged in finding himself a wife – and haKadosh Barukh Hu was engaged in creating the light of the anointed king (David).]
b) The direct result of Rivkah’s “official version” of the reason to send Ya’akov away (to find a wife) is that Esav married into Yishma’el’s family (28:8-9). Note Rashbam’s comments here: “Esav thought that it was on account of his marrying K’na’ani daughters that Ya’akov successfully stole the blessing of Avraham from me. He married the daughter of Yishma’el from the family of Avraham, thinking that now he will merit the legacy of Avraham.” In other words, Rivkah’s misleading statement regarding the reason for sending Ya’akov away motivated Esav to erroneously think that he could get the favored blessing by following that directive in his next marriage.
c) This one is somewhat obvious: By fooling Ya’akov into marrying Leah, The order of Shivtei Kah was inverted so that the eldest was not the son of Rachel, which led to all of the inter-fraternal troubles in Ya’akov’s family (especially regarding Yoseph).
The Midrash explicit links the deception of that fateful night with the deception practiced by the brothers on their father regarding Yoseph’s “disappearance”. (B’resheet Rabbah 84:10).
In addition, this one night of deception (in which both Rachel and Leah were complicit) also kept Ya’akov from returning to K’na’an for anywhere between 7 and 13 years (7 which he worked for Rachel and 6 which he worked to make his own fortune).
d) Rachel’s lie to her father regarding the idols: Note how Ya’akov unwittingly curses his beloved Rachel: “With whom you will find your gods, let him not live. Before our brothers point out what is yours with me, and take it with you. For Ya’akov knew not that Rachel had stolen them.” (31:32). Rashi (ad loc.) cites the Midrash which points to this statement as the curse which led to Rachel’s tragic death.
e) This is actually the “odd man out” on the list; whereas the other instances are exactly that – instances – this is a record of ongoing behavior.
f) Ya’akov implies that he will follow Esav to Se’ir (although note Ramban’s approach at 33:14). Hazal seem to be bothered by this promise, as it is clear that Ya’akov didn’t intend to go to Se’ir at all. As such, they interpret it as a “long-range” promise; Ya’akov will fulfill it in the messianic era: “And saviors shall ascend Mount Tziyyon to judge the Mount of Esav; and the kingdom shall be Hashem’s.” (Ovadiah 21) There doesn’t seem to be a negative repercussion to this misleading statement anywhere throughout B’resheet or later Biblical history.
g) The deception of Sh’khem has implications both forward and backward in history. The first place where Avraham set up an altar when he entered the Land was Sh’khem (12:6); Rashi notes that he prayed there for the welfare of his great-grandchildren who would fight at that place. More significantly, Sh’khem is the location where the brothers cast Yoseph into the pit, which is (as noted above) an act tied up in deception. (Note BT Sanhedrin 102a where this connection is made, albeit linked to the rape, not the deception).
h) The deception of Ya’akov by his sons, which, as we have pointed out, is the consequence of Ya’akov’s deception, becomes the next causal link in the chain: When the brothers sent Yoseph’s tunic, covered with goat’s blood, to father Ya’akov, they declared: “This have we found; *Haker Na* (discern, I beg you) whether it is your son’s coat or not” (37:32).
When Yehudah (generally assumed to be the one who engineered that deception; see 37:26-27) was fooled by Tamar, she revealed herself with that selfsame phrase: “When she was brought out, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, ‘By the man, whose these are, am I with child; and she said, *Haker Na* (Discern, I beg you), whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.’ ” (38:25)
The Gemara ties these two together in the context (and within the discussion of) *Midah k’Neged Midah*:
” ‘Discern, I pray thee’. R. Hama b. Hanina said: With the word ‘discern’ [Yehudah] made an announcement to his father, and with the word ‘discern’ an announcement was made to him. With the word ‘discern’ he made an announcement : ‘Discern now whether it be thy son’s coat or not’; and with the word ‘discern’ an announcement was made to him : ‘Discern, I pray thee, whose are these’.” (BT Sotah 10b)
i) Tamar’s successful deception actually bears fruit (pun intended) which is all positive – but, keep in mind that Yehudah being fooled in this story is the result (as the Midrash attests) of his role in an earlier deception.
j) Although this is not, strictly speaking, within the context of the Ya’akovan family, there is an interesting consequence to Mrs. Potiphar’s duplicitous behavior: Yoseph, whom she so desired, marries her daughter (41:45). Although one could argue that this is the “next best thing” for her – at least her daughter is married to Yoseph – from a perspective of T’nakh law, it is the one marriage which renders a future relationship with Yoseph out of reach. By lying and sending Yoseph to jail, she catalyzed a sequence of events which led to his marriage to her daughter – and her permanent relegation to the role of mother-in-law.
k) The Midrash Tanhuma (Vayyigash #3) makes a startling observation: All of Yoseph’s glory was overshadowed by Yehudah (ultimately, “Mashiach ben Yoseph” will be outlived and overshadowed by “Mashiach ben David” from Yehudah). The Midrash seems to link this with the comparison of Yoseph’s deception as against Yehudah’s forthright stand in his plea for Binyamin. In any case, at this point in B’resheet, most of the episodes are on the “result” end of the chain and Yoseph’s behavior is the direct outgrowth of the brothers’ deception of their father as noted above.
l) This ploy had an unintended but tragic result: By convincing Pharaoh that the brothers were all shepherds, he located them together in Goshen. This was, admittedly, Yoseph’s goal – to keep the family together. Several generations later, however, this made the Egyptian oppression that much easier to enforce: The children of Ya’akov were now identifiable as “them” (as against “us”) – and their “Goshen ghetto” conditions certainly didn’t help in this regard.
m) This last lie is an interesting one. Although not clearly bound within the causal chain which we have identified, it is enlightening and informative from another perspective. The Midrash (D’varim Rabbah 5:14) comments:
Resh Lakish said: Great is peace, for the Torah reported false words in order to establish peace between Yoseph and his brothers. When their father died, they became afraid lest Yoseph take vengeance from them. What did they say? “Your father commanded, before his death, saying: ‘Thus shall you say to Yoseph [Forgive, I beg you now, the trespass of your brothers, and their sin; for they did to you evil]; ‘” and we never find that Ya’akov commanded this, rather, Scripture stated false words for the sake of peace.
In other words, here we find a second example of Divine validation of the questionable behavior which sits at the core of this analysis. As noted last week, God Himself reported inaccurate information to Avraham in order to spare his feelings – and, here, at the end of B’resheet, we find that the Torah validates untrue words which, again, come to promote *Shalom Bayit*.
We have noted an intricate series of deceptions orchestrated by or against members of Ya’akov’s family. We have pointed to Midrashic or scriptural connections which seem to bind them together in a causal sequence.
At this point, we are, perhaps, more aware of the tangled web which is woven throughout the Sefer – but are no wiser as to how to understand it. Our two original questions remain unanswered:
a) If Ya’akov’s behavior in following his mother’s advice and masquerading in order to gain the B’rakhah intended for Esav was justified, why are there such horrible and far-reaching consequences? [If it was not justified, then we have to understand how God could reward and support a blessing gained under the shadow of a crime. We will take the position that his behavior was just and justified – and perhaps leave the other lemma for another discussion.]
b) How do we distinguish between Lavan and Ya’akov? Why are we proud to carry the names of *Beit Ya’akov* and *B’nei Yisra’el*, yet shudder at the name of Lavan?
Regarding our first question, we can find the answer in a broad area of Halakhah: Hilkhot Sh’gagot. The Torah mandates that if a person sins unknowingly, in such a manner that he either wasn’t aware of all of the facts (this really is a piece of *Helev*) or of the law, he must, upon finding out that it was a violation, bring an expiation offering – a Korban Hatat. Why must he bring such an offering? We find an even further expression of this: A person who is guilty of manslaughter, with absolutely no harm intended, is obligated to go into exile at one of the cities of refuge. The Gemara (BT Makkot 10b) understands that this exile is a form of expiation – but from what e