Trickery. Deception. One might think that is the basis for two parashiyot of the Torah; last week’s Toldot and this week’s Vayetze. Talk about leaving your dirty laundry hanging on the line. Are we to believe that it was Yaakov’s fault or was it Esau that took his birthright so lightly as to sell it for a bowl of stew? Of course, there is little doubt that Jacob took advantage of his brother’s nature. Then there is Isaac’s blessing of his sons. What else is one to think except that Rebecca conspired with her son to steal that blessing? Was it but for a pelt of lambskin attached to Jacob’s arm and a well cooked soup that the blessing would have gone to the intended, Esau, and that Edom would be the blessed land and people instead of Israel?
And this week, what is Laban up to? Does he care so little about his daughters’ happiness that he tricks Jacob (many say this was tit for tat for Jacob’s trickery) into marrying Leah thus making the couple unhappy from the start? (Leah declares that her husband “hates” her and hopes that now, after the birth of their first child, “…now my husband will love me.”) Not to belabor this line of thinking, Jacob continues to use trickery in the form of craftiness (legal but sketchy) in using his expertise with animal husbandry to end up with quite a large flock that he sneaks away from Laban, now married to both Leah and Rachel after 14 years of laboring for them. It would also seem that both daughters were quite cross with their father as well. Laban hoarded the riches that Jacob had accrued for him and did not pass down the wealth to his children. For this he paid the price of his daughters abandoning him; a very high price for being cheap!
I think back to 1944 when my father and his brother, Alberto, answered a call by the Nazi authorities to come to the synagogue and collect free matzah for Passover. They were immediately herded into trucks and taken by cattle car on a TEN DAY death ride to Auschwitz. The Nazis were masters of deception.
My mother, then a lovely single woman, was to be forced into marriage with a Christian boy by her uncle so as to be saved from the Nazis (a deception that would not have worked). After her youngest brother, Victor, abducted her from the ceremony at gunpoint, she, her sister (with husband and baby in tow) and their mother, Stella, were hidden by the Kourelis family in a nearby neighborhood in Athens. When a “neighbor” turned them in to the Nazis it was Elftheria Kourelis who saved everyone’s life through the use of very quick thinking, courage and trickery. “What Jews? You can clearly see these are my mother, my aunt, my sister and my grandmother! You may search the house all you want for Jews!” We might not call that trickery but being fast on one’s feet.
I have no doubt that if and when my father and mother slept and dreamt through their ordeals they probably did not see a ladder leading all the way up to the gate of heaven as did Jacob in this week’s sidrah. It is hard to do that when in the midst of hell. But God did save them. The promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was fulfilled for a small remnant of our people who rebuilt their lives and ensured the continuation of the Jewish people for generations. May we, in the midst of a country blessed with freedom, not forget to be diligent and forthright in thought and action so that apathy and complacency do not become our common deception.