Parshat Vayechi, Exodus 1:1–6:1
Yaakov, our Forefather, is misunderstood. The enigma of his personality is profound. His real identity is diametrically opposite of our perception of him. On the surface he is a liar and a thief who stole from his brother and lied to his father. But, in reality, he is the quintessence of truth. Careful analysis of text and thousand-year-old manuscripts reveal his integrity.
Here is a casual perusal of some of the sources: “Give truth to Yaakov” (Micha 7:20); “One who speaks truth in his heart” (Psalms 15). Rav Safra said this is Yaakov our Forefather as it says, “Lest my father will feel me and I’ll appear in his eyes to be tricking him” (Genesis 27:12) (Makkos 24A). He was telling his mother, Rivka, that he wanted his father to discover him so that he won’t be party to this ruse (Maharitz Chayos, ibid).
In addition, Yaakov, in his anger, berates the ultimate charlatan, his father-in-law Lavan. He proclaims that for 20 years he dealt with him with integrity. He challenges him to claim otherwise. Lavan’s retort doesn’t assert chicanery but some other claim. This implies that Lavan’s acknowledged Yaakov’s fair approach to their dealings with each other. (See Genesis 31:36-43.)
The aforementioned questionable acts of Yaakov aren’t necessarily emblematic of deceitful character. Deception is sometimes required to be employed to achieve good. No one would argue that Gino Bartali was wrong in deceiving the Fascists as is documented in the “Road to Valor.” He saved Jews by transporting identification papers inside the tubes of his bike claiming that he was going on training rides. Falsification is also sanctioned for privacy (Bava Metzia 23b) and outright lying to ensure peace between a husband and wife (Yevamos 65b). Yaakov had no choice but to employ a trait that was counter to his proclivities for reason beyond the scope of our discussion.
Yaakov blesses his children at the end his life (Genesis chapter 48). Except, his words don’t feel like blessings. Instead, they are a description of each of his sons and what challenges they have.
Reuven is quick to act. Perhaps that’s beneficial when deliberation is not an option. Shimon and Levi are zealous to the point of violence. Perhaps that’s useful when courage and unrelenting heroism is in order. Yehuda carries himself in a princely manner. That is useful when calm collective and charismatic leadership is appropriate for a nation. Zevulin has capacity for hard work. This is necessary to facilitate economic security.
Being a man of veracity, as we explained above, allows Yaakov to truly understand the various characters of each of his children. Yaakov is telling them that those same challenges can turn into blessings (Strive for Truth, Rabbi Aryeh Carmel).
This is the lesson that we learn from this week’s portion. Knowing our children is crucial in implementing the right strategies in propelling them forward in a growth-full manner.
Today, as parents and teachers, we face a unique pedagogical and rearing challenge. One of the benefits and detriments of the internet is that the world has become a smaller place. A few individuals have the power to influence an enormous amount of followers in fashion, art, music and intellectual pursuits. This can have a cookie-cutter effect, fashioning everyone in the same way. But everyone is unique. We have the opportunity to identify the unique character of everyone in our circle of influence and guide them accordingly. JN
Rabbi Yakov Bronsteyn is a senior lecturer at Phoenix Community Kollel. He is one of the Kollel’s “Founding Fathers.”