Parshas Toldos - The Truth Is…Sometimes!
“To be honest with you” and “The truth is” are statements people make that force me to think about how truthful these people really are. I am an observer of human behavior and have also been drawn to the word choice people use to preface their statements. If someone says “To be honest with you”, does that necessarily mean that in general they are not honest with people. Not always. In my profession, I generally spend most of my working hours listening to people. I appreciate when people are honest and I believe they benefit from being honest in the long run. One of my favorite Talmudic idioms is the Gemara in Brachos that says that we should train our tongues to say ‘I don’t know’, because people might grab on onto our words and use them against us. Sounds like a good idea to be truthful.
It is therefore intriguing that a man who was known as theאיש אמת, namelyיעקב אבינו is continues a ruse proposed by his mother in order to get the blessing intended for his brother עשו. It must have gone completely against יעקב’s nature to follow through with this ongoing deception as one lie generally turns into another lie. Was there another way to get the blessing without having to dress like עשו, try sounding like עשו and try acting likeעשו for the day? Couldn’t רבקהhave just sat down and had a little chat with יצחק about why יעקב was more deserving of the firstborn rights? She could have argued that עשו didn’t even appreciate the birthright and יעקב certainly would do good things in the future. So why the need for the deception?
Moreover, contained within יעקב’s name is the reason why עשו was so upset as he says that יעקב is s trickster. Although יעקב’s name is eventually changed to ישראל, he is certainly known by his original name—יעקב?
So when are you allowed to lie? There is a Gemara in BavaMetzia that tells us that there are three times where someone can tell a ‘little white lie’. Those are— a. claiming you don’t know a Gemara when you really do, b. matters of marital intimacy, and c. denying how well a host performed with their hospitality (this is to prevent people from hearing how great the accommodations really were and cause people to flock to that host’s home and overwhelming them). I am paraphrasing but these are the three the Gemara mentions.
The Gemara in Yevamos tells us that there are times where the Rabbanim allow us to be deceptive in order to keep the peace. Were Rivka and Yaakov merely trying to keep the peace?
Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky compares what is happening with the יעקב and עשו story with someone who tries to rob you and you deny that you have any money, even though you have lots of money in your pocket. עשו therefore was the impostor in this case. He was trying to take what was rightfully יעקב’s. Therefore, יעקב’s actions, by proxy were justified. He is therefore ascribed the title of ישראל which, contained within that name is the word ישר. This indicates that יעקב’s actions were indeed justified.
What is even more fascinating is that later on in ParshasVayishlach, the Medrash tells us that Yaakov encouraged Eisav to go ahead of him to HarSeir-Mount Seir. Reb Avahu comments that there is nowhere in Tanach where it says that Yaakov met Eisav at HarSeir. It appears that Yaakov is continuing his deception even without his mother’s urging. Did he not learn his lesson? However, and I will use the cliché “the truth is”…Yaakov was not lying. The Medrash bring the Passuk from Ovadia that says “And Saviors will go up to HarTzion to judge the mountain of Eisav.” This was the prophecy that will occur in the times of Mashiach.
Now, we can understand what the intention was. There is a fascinating Gemara in Avoda Zara that says if a Jew meets a non-Jew who asks him where he is going and the Jew is afraid the guy is going to kill him, he can tell the non-Jew a different location or a more distant location for self-preservation purposes.
And now, we can (honestly) make sense of the deception conundrum. A person is allowed to mislead another person but not directly. The way to do so is allowing the other person to misunderstand you as Yaakov did to Eisav. He would meet up with Eisav. Just not in this lifetime.
I would like to take this idea a step further. In my training, I have learned how to spot a liar. In children, it is rather easy. In adults there are some tricks of the trade in spotting a deceptive person. I recently came across an article written in a publication called Frontiers in Psychology( ). The first line of the article states “Deception is thought to be more effortful than telling the truth.” I re-read that statement a few times before continuing the article. I won’t review the entire article although it is a very worthwhile read. Is it harder to deceive than to just tell the truth? It all depends on who you ask. When you are young and you are caught doing something wrong, it is sort of a knee-jerk reaction for many kids to engage in telling a lie. “I didn’t steal the cookie from the cookie jar!”
But what happens when an adult tells a lie. Anecdotally, I can say that that there are more cognitive processes that are activated when lying such as feelings of guilt and shame and remorse among others. Countless numbers of clients I see will tell me “I can’t believe I am telling you this.” As if this is the first time they are telling the truth. But is it the first time they are telling the truth or is it the first time they are including truthful details in a story that only makes sense when they tell all. This is a fascinating concept and to see it play out in real life is somewhat gratifying for a psychologist.