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The Art of Deception

Friday, 6 December, 2019 - 7:38 am

Is there such a thing as good deception?

Is it ever appropriate to deceive others?

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The hero of our parsha Vayetzei, Yaakov, was a Master of Deception.

In fact, his name Yaakov means trickery.

In last week’s parsha he deceived his father in order to receive the blessings. In this week’s parsha he deceives his uncle Lavan, besting a world-class cheater.

Why is Yaakov – the final of the Patriarchs – associated so much with deception?

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One of the ways Yaakov deceived Lavan was by escaping with his family without as much as a goodbye. 

The Torah says, “And Yaakov saw Lavan's countenance, that he was not disposed toward him as he had been yesterday and the day before. And the Lord said to Yaakov, "Return to the land of your forefathers and to your birthplace, and I will be with you." So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field, to his flocks.”

The Torah continues to tell how Yaakov and his family then departed – stealthily. Lavan’s demeanor had changed drastically once Yaakov had become far more wealthy. He felt he had no choice but to escape.

Interestingly, the Torah does not simply say that Yaakov saw that his uncle’s attitude had soured, and therefore he left town. Rather, the next verse indicates that he only acted after G-d had spoken to him, commanding him to return to Israel.

In other words, even after Yaakov had been mistreated by Lavan – and even after he suspected Lavan would harm him – he still was not ready to deceive his uncle. Only upon receiving an order from Hashem, did he act!

Yaakov was reluctant to deceive someone. Even when he was completely justified.

Earlier, he resisted deceiving his father, until his mother commanded him. Now, he resisted deceiving a scoundrel, until G-d Himself urged him to do so.

This teaches us the tremendous hesitation we ought to have in deceiving others – even when it is fully appropriate.

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There is no better example of deception than Yaakov. Learning the art of deception from someone like Yaakov is the best guardrail to ensure that even when forced to employ it – we do it right.

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