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Torah Attitude: Parashas Toldos: The complete truth and nothing but the truth
The special character trait attributed to Jacob is truth. It appears that Jacob ‘stole’ the blessing from his brother Eisav. It does not appear that Jacob was truthful in his dealings with Lavan. There are three cases when the whole truth requires a person to modify the nature of exact information. The Torah attitude to truth is that in every situation we must clarify what does G’d want us to do. One may slightly change a quotation to avoid bad feelings and to promote peace between people. There are certain situations where it is acceptable not to relate all the details to preserve modesty. We are all obligated to take precautions to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our belongings. The complete truth required Jacob to “steal” the blessing. Only when Lavan tried to cheat Jacob did he make an effort to protect himself. Since G’d would not let Lavan harm Jacob, the complete truth required Jacob to outwit Lavan. The complete truth requires resourcefulness to protect us from harm, to promote peace, and to preserve modesty.
Jacob and truth
Each one of our Patriarchs emphasized a particular character trait in their service of G’d. Abraham was famous for his lovingkindness (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeira, Love G’d, love kindness). Isaac maintained a very high level of fear and awe of G’d. The special character trait attributed to Jacob is truth. This may seem puzzling because of the three patriarchs he seems to have been involved in most incidents that do not at first appear to be truthful.
‘Stealing’ the blessing
In one incident, the Torah relates how Rebecca coached Jacob to obtain a blessing from his blind father, Isaac, pretending to be Eisav (Bereishis 27:5-29). She prepared Isaac’s favourite meal just the way Eisav normally did. She took Eisav’s clothes and placed them on Jacob so that he would smell like Eisav. She also placed hairy goat skins on Jacob’s arms and neck so that he would feel like Eisav. Isaac gave the blessing intended for Eisav to Jacob because he was fooled by the elaborate deception created by Rebecca and Jacob. In this way, it appears that Jacob ‘stole’ the blessing from his brother Eisav. At the very least, it does not appear that Jacob was truthful in obtaining the blessing from Isaac.
In another incident, the Torah relates how Jacob used different means to outwit Lavan. Jacob took coloured rods and placed them in front of the sheep when they came to drink during mating time (Bereishis 30:31-43). When the flock gave birth, the newborn were ringed, speckled or spotted, having the same markings as the rod in front of their parents. In this way, Jacob outwitted Lavan and was able to amass great wealth. Again, it does not appear that Jacob was truthful in his dealings with Lavan as he used subterfuge to obtain wealth at the expense of Lavan.
Man of integrity
Taking all this into account, it seems strange that this week’s portion introduces Jacob (Bereishis 25:27), as an ‘ish tam’, a man of integrity. This clearly indicates that he was totally dedicated to only perform acts of honesty and truthfulness. In order to understand how Jacob’s integrity went hand in hand with these two incidents, we have to clarify the Torah attitude towards truthfulness. Our sages teach that there are three cases when for the sake of the whole truth a person is required to modify the exact information: (1) to prevent harm; (2) to promote peace; and (3) to preserve modesty.
Hiding from the Nazi
A professor of philosophy was once giving a class on truthfulness and integrity. He explained to his students that to be truthful means to always tell exactly what happened no matter whatever may be the consequences. For example, if a Nazi was pursuing his victim with the intent to kill him, and someone knows where the victim is hiding, said the professor, the trait of truthfulness obligates one to reveal the location of the victim.
The Torah attitude is totally different. The Torah in itself is called the Torah of Truth because it discloses G’d’s word which is the complete truth, and nothing but the truth. The Torah attitude to truth, says Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Desler, is that in every situation we must clarify what does G’d want us to do. Sometimes G’d wants us to say things exactly as they happened. But there are other situations when G’d does not want us to say exactly what happened. Contrary to the teachings of the professor, if a victim is running from a Nazi, as in the above example, the Torah commands us not to disclose the whereabouts of the victim in order to protect the victim from being harmed.
We find that G’d Himself changed a quotation in order to avoid any bad feelings between Abraham and Sarah. When one of the visiting angels first told Abraham that a son would be born to them next year, Sarah laughed and said, “After I have withered shall I again have delicate skin? And my husband is old?” (Bereishis 18:12). However, when G’d repeated the incident to Abraham, He said, “Why is it that Sarah laughed, saying: ‘Shall I in truth bear a child, though I have aged?’ (Bereishis 18:13). G’d did not make any mention to Abraham that Sarah had questioned how her “old husband” could father children. Rather, G’d made it sound as though Sarah had questioned her own age as an impediment to having a son. Since G’d is the ultimate source of all truth, and the Torah is G’d’s instructions for our proper conduct, we learn from this that one may slightly change a quotation to avoid bad feelings and to promote peace between people.
The Talmud (Baba Metzia 23b) explains that there are certain situations where it is acceptable not to relate all the details to preserve modesty. For example, if a person is asked whether he has some particular knowledge, he may pretend that he does not and hide the extent of his knowledge to maintain his modesty. Similarly, in personal family matters, especially in regards to husband and wife, it is not necessary to share certain facts with others. It is no one’s business to pry into matters of personal modesty. For example, it is correct to hide when a married woman visits a mikvah.
The Torah says (Devarim 18:13) “You shall be wholehearted (‘tamim’) with G’d.” This means that you should have full trust and perfect faith with G’d. The Chofetz Chaim explains, “You should have full trust in G’d but not in every person you meet.” We do not live in a perfect world. We are all obligated to take precautions to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our belongings. Having trust in G’d does not mean that we are not obligated to take precautions.
Required to ‘steal’
The word “tamim” and “tam” are the same words. Jacob is described as a “tam”, as someone who had 100% faith in G’d. His mother told him in the name of G’d (Bereishis 27:5) to dress up as his brother in order to obtain the blessing that only he was worthy of and not Eisav. The Targum Yonathan tells us that Rebecca had previously received a prophetic message that Jacob was destined to receive the blessing of the first born not Eisav. Despite his initial reluctance, once he realized this was what G’d wanted of him, Jacob accepted G’d’s words as the truth, and did everything a man of integrity would do to fulfill G’d’s commandment. The complete truth required Jacob to “steal” the blessing.
When Jacob came to Lavan’s house, he said to Rachel (Bereishis 29:12) that he was her father’s brother. Rashi quotes from the Midrash that he was hinting that if Lavan would try to cheat him, he would be able to defend himself and reciprocate by taking similar measures to protect himself. But if Lavan would deal with him in an honourable way, then Jacob would reciprocate with all integrity expected from a son of Rivka. Before Jacob ran away from Lavan, Jacob describes his honesty and integrity and how Lavan constantly tried to change their agreement in order to cheat Jacob (Bereishis 31:6). With all his might he served Lavan even though Lavan changed their agreements one hundred times. When Lavan met up with Jacob, the Torah describes (Bereishis 31:38) how Jacob related how he took care of Lavan’s cattle by day and night for twenty years, and served him with complete honesty. Only when Lavan tried to cheat Jacob did G’d help him to protect himself by arranging the colour of the lambs.
The Rambam, at the end of the laws regarding employers and employees, reminds us that just as the employer may not take away the wage of the employee or hold it, so the employee is obligated not to act dishonestly with his employer by wasting time during employment hours. The employee has to be particular to be honest with his time and to do his job with all his ability. As we find by Jacob the Tzaddik that “with all my might I served your father”. Therefore, G’d rewarded him even in this world that “he became exceedingly prosperous”. The Rambam uses Jacob as the prototype of an honest employee. However, since G’d wanted that Lavan should not harm Jacob in any way, this complete truth of what G’d wanted, required Jacob to outwit Lavan.
The Torah teaches us that the complete truth requires resourcefulness to protect us from harm, to promote peace, and to preserve modesty. Those who seek the real truth can find it in the Torah, where G’d teaches and reveals the complete truth and nothing but the truth.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network