The last two Torah parshas of the week have portrayed Yaakov as quite a con-man. Every step of the way he is using his cunning to achieve his desired goals – at first in attaining the birthright by putting the pressure on a weary and vulnerable Esau, and afterwards in his outright theft of the blessing from his father. In our parsha this week, we see this guile directed now at Laban, his cheating uncle, as our sages tell us: “If to deceive he comes, then I, too am his brother in deceit, but if he is an honest man, than I, too am the son of Rivka, his honest sister”. (Rashi 29:12) And indeed, when the dust clears Yaakov comes out of the Laban situation a very wealthy man.
The problem is that all this is in sharp contrast to the very first words the Torah uses to describe Yaakov – “And Yaakov was ‘tam’ (in Hebrew, the word ‘tam’ has the connotation of pure, whole, simple or naive). Couldn’t the Torah find another word to characterize Yaakov other than ‘tam’?? In our simplistic eyes, Yaakov is the very antithesis of ‘tam’, full of savvy and even an outright liar when need be.
The question is magnified ten fold when we remember that Yaakov Avinu represents, of all things, “Emet” (truth), as it is written, “And you will give truth to Yaakov”, (Micha 7). And so again, couldn’t the sages come up with a more appropriate characteristic for Yaakov other than “Emet”?
The fact is that this subject is a very delicate one, and it is one that my father, Rabbi Meir Kahane, HY”D, had to deal with his entire life. Obviously in this short space it is impossible to delve too deeply into the subject, but it certainly must be touched upon. Everyone used to ask Rabbi Kahane: “Why don’t you change a little?” Just change a little to outmaneuver your enemies and then get into a position of power when you can then say the truth. Without exaggerating, he was approached by literally thousands of people with advice of this sort. He never listened to these “advisors” and insisted on clinging to truth. There are enough liars and cowards out there already, he would say. SOMEONE has to speak the truth.
Rabbi Kahane was the only one to get up and shout the truth without changing an iota, and without taking into account the “ifs” or “buts”. From this point of view, he was the epitome of “And you will give truth to Yaakov”. On the other hand, when it came to less important matters not concerning the essence of the message, the Rav was as sly as the best of them, making a mockery of his opponents, often using “gimmicks” to expose their fraud or get himself press. But all this cunning was used for TACTICAL matters, not ideological ones. When it came to the message of the Jewish Idea, there was no place for even the tiniest of compromises. He knew that if he would make the slightest change, even for a short period of time, he would lose everything he had worked for – he would be selling out, and the power of his message would be emasculated.
It seems to me that through this actual, live example of my father in our generation, we are given insight into the behavior of Yaakov in hisinteraction with Esau and Laban. Sure Yaakov knew how to manipulate and fend for himself when need be. But when it came to the message itself he was willing to sacrifice himself even for “little jars”, for it was a matter of principle to retrieve what he earned. He was ready to go face to face with the angel of Esau for even the slightest reason.
This ability to separate what is important and what is not important; what is the message and what is only tactical; when to compromise and when not to – this made my father so special. It is the lesson we learn from Yaakov Avenu.