HAD BEEN INVOLVED IN AN ACT of deception, and now he becomes the victim of
deception. After seven years of
working for his uncle Lavan, he wishes to marry Rachel, Lavans younger
daughter. And it was in
the morning, that behold it was Leah. And
[Yaakov] said to Lavan What is this you have done to me?
Did I not work with you for Rachel?
And why did you deceive me?
(Bereishit 29:25). Lavan, the champion deceiver, tricked
Yaakov by switching Rachel with Leah.
EXPLAINS HIMSELF, after all, he is a recognized leader in the community.
When he presents his excuses, he makes a not-so-veiled reference to
Yaakovs own act of deception, in which he took the place of his older
brother Esav in receiving their father Yitzchaks blessing: It
is not done so in our place, to put the younger before the older. Complete this ones [Leahs] week [of celebration] . .
NEXT WORD in Hebrew is critical to our understanding of Lavans character:
there are two ways of translating this word.
Ibn Ezra interprets it passively:
she will be given? after the week of celebration for
Leah, it will be acceptable for Rachel to marry Yaakov.
COMMENTARIES, however, (including Rashi,
and Onkelos) translate this word as active and plural: We will give Rachel to you as wife. But the plural form is hard to understand.
Surely, Rachel is Lavans daughter only!
RAMBAN EXPLAINS: Lavans
words were spoken with cunning. He
said to Yaakov It is not done so in our place, for the people of
the place will not let me do so, for it would be a shameful act in their
eyes. But you fulfill the
week of this one and we - I and all the people of the place -
will also give you this one, for we will all consent to the matter, and we
will honor you and make a feast as we have done with the first one.
IS SAYING I am not to blame for what happened. But what can I do? I am, as you are, at the mercy of social convention. Lavan
shifts the responsibility away from himself to others.
WHO WISHES to have his own way at the expense of others and get away with
it takes refuge in the system, claiming to be but a small cog in
the machinery. He passes the
buck. He argues I was
only following orders. In
this way he can perhaps assuage his own conscience, and he might even
satisfy the public.
BLAMING THE SYSTEM - and each of us does this from time to time - a person
splits himself in two: there is
the personal I, who always does what is pleasant and right, and there
is the I which is part of an abstract corpus (the Public, the State,
the Community, the Organization, etc.).
He compartmentalizes himself but demonstrates a shocking disregard
for moral responsibility. Once
begun, it is a hard habit to break, and the results can be terrifying:
INSISTS that each person be one fully integrated I, that he take full
responsibility for his actions, and act according to what the Torah says is
TALMUD TEACHES (Kiddushin 42b, ff.) that there is no agency for
sinful acts. This means that
if I am appointed by another to commit a sin, I cannot excuse my actions by
claiming He made me do it. I
am responsible for my actions, not anyone else, not the society, not even
another part of myself. At
times, this might require standing in opposition to and resisting the
nameless, faceless Them.
IS THE CENTRAL THEME of the approaching holiday of Chanukah. During the
Second Temple period the world was greatly influenced by Greek culture and
its outlook on life. The Jewish
people also saw value in Greek civilization and philosophy.
However, there came a point when fitting in with the Greek lifestyle
would have meant abandoning Torah values.
GREEKS ADMIRED PHYSICAL PERFECTION, and thus condemned the observance of Brit
Milah as mutilation. Shabbat
and Kashrut became social barriers,
and were compromised, then abandoned. Worshipping
the Greek gods became a step towards social acceptance.
The primacy of man in Greek philosophy supplanted the primacy of God.
Many Jews rationalized their adherence to Greek values by referring to the
spirit of the times. The entire world was falling in line. To be modern was to be Greek.
THIS BACKGROUND, it was extremely difficult for some Jews to insist on
drawing the line between fitting in and selling out.
In effect, they were saying that they would not join the modern
trend of dividing their identities between their Jewish selves and their
citizen-of-the-world (that is, Greek) selves.
They proclaimed, in the words of Mattityahu, Whoever is for
Hashem, to me! There is
only one me, the one who is defined by loyalty to Hashem.
Even when I participate in the secular world, I do so as a Jew.
TORAH TEACHES otherwise. The
first Patriarch, Avraham, is called Ivri, the one on the other
courageously, and at great personal risk, did not fall in line with the
masses. He opposed the
idolatry of his environment, with all its immorality and cruelty. All the world was on one side of the ideological divide and
Avraham was on the other. The
worlds side, the side of multiple gods, was a world of divided selves.
Avraham stood on the side of a world-view that insisted that, just
as Hashem is One, man must strive for oneness.
As Jews ?
both as individuals and as a nation ?
we are bidden to follow his example.
A MORAL LIGHTWEIGHT like Lavan can split himself into his public-self and
his private-self, claiming that he is justified.
Ultimately, Lavan, the Great Deceiver, succeeds only in deceiving
himself. In time, Yaakov sees
Lavan for what he is.
on the other hand, exemplifies Emet, the complete truth.
He ventures into the world at large, even spending 20 years under
Lavans influence, but retains his unified self.
The message he sends his brother Esav, with the message between the
lines seen by Rashi, is With Lavan have I dwelled ?
and the 613 Mitzvot
have I kept. And when he
finally arrives in Israel, he arrives Shalem ?
whole, undivided, one.
WE ARE ENJOINED TO REJECT the example of Lavan, and to aspire to the examples of Avraham and Yaakov. Each of us must acknowledge that we have one I. Our challenge as Jews is to align that I with the eternal values of the Torah.