For All Those Years

In Vayetei, this week’s Torah portion, we read of Yakov’s escape to Haran. Last week he stole the birthright and the blessing from Esav and now he wants to evade Esav’s wrath.  There in Haran he falls in love with Rachel. Lavan convincing him to work for 7 years for Rachel’s hand in marriage. Lavan dupes Yakov into marrying Rachel’s older sister Leah instead. When confronted for deceiving Yakov, Lavan replies, “It is not so done in our place, to give the younger before the first-born” ( Genesis 29:26). Many questions arise from this situation. I wanted to discuss two now. How in the world did Yakov not realize that he was sleeping with Leah and not Rachel? What did Lavan mean by his response to Yakov?

On the first question I refer us back to Toldot, last week’s Torah portion. There we read of Rivka’s deception of Yitzhak. There the blind Yitzhak asks Esav for some food. There we read:

Now therefore take, I pray of you, your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and take me venison; and make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless you before I die.’ ( Genesis 27: 3-4)

Rivka overhears this plan and tells Yakov to intervene and to follow her plan. There we read:

Go now to the flock, and fetch me from two good kids of the goats from there; and I will make them savory food for your father, such as he loves; and you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.’ ( Genesis 27: 9-10)

At the core of this deception is the issue of perception. ( I realize that I am reading this differently then I did last week.) Yitzhak is blind, but that does not mean that we cannot taste. So how did this deception work? How might someone mistake goat for venison? Either Yitzhak is just not that perceptive or Rivka has been serving him goat meat for years and telling him it is venison.

In either case we might have some answers to our questions. Maybe Yakov like Yitzhak is just not that perceptive. While that is not that satisfying, it is interesting to realize how much Yakov is like Yitzhak.  This leaves us with the second question. What did Lavan mean?

It is hard as the reader not to read it as sarcastic. So we would read Lavan’s reply as, “It is not so done in our place as compared to your place, to give the younger before the first-born as you stole the birthright and blessing from your older brother Esav.”  But we the readers of the Torah know what Yakov did, but how would Lavan have known of Yakov’s decption of Esav and Yitzhak? It is possible that Lavan does not know anything of Yakov’s misdeeds. Maybe he is referring in a back-handed way to Rivka and her ways. She did grow up there with him in Haran. Maybe Rivka like Lavan are tricksters. For all of those years maybe Rivka was deceiving Yitzhak serving him goat and claiming it was venison. In this way Lavan is claiming that Yakov is no different from Rivka who is no different from himself.  As the Roman Philospher  Marcus Tullius Cicero said, ” It is the peculiar quality of a fool to perceive the faults of others and to forget his own”. We know that Lavan is a fool, but what is Yakov? It takes Yakov much of his life to realizing his similarities to both the positive and negative qualities of his parents. Like many of us, Yakov spends his whole life reconciling his identities. In this process of wrestling with our various identities we all become Yisrael.

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