There is a tradition amongst some Talmudic commentators to try to discount what appears to be any narrative in the Torah that seems to reflect negatively on our founding fathers and mothers. This is partially out of profound respect for these great human beings. But it also reflects an old Pagan tradition dating back thousands of years to make well-known humans into saints, to try to cast them as perfect–just we tend to do with film stars and even politicians–when in fact the Bible itself says that there is no such thing as a perfect human being.
We might excuse Jacob for allowing himself to be pressured into following his mother’s instructions to dress up as Esav to “steal” Isaac’s blessings. But the fact is that he took advantage of his father’s blindness. Another equally significant way of understanding the behavior of the Patriarchs is the phrase, “Midah KeNeged Midah”. In Shakespearean language, it is “Measure for Measure”, and in modern slang, “Tit for Tat”! More precisely, it says that the characteristics with which you act will be applied back to you.
This week we read how Lavan cheated Jacob. He took advantage of Jacob’s “blindness”, his ignorance of local custom, to force Leah on him instead of Rachel. Again, it seems strange. Didn’t he know that Leah was not Rachel? Couldn’t he have refused to play the game? I know the Midrash say that Rachel gave Leah some love tokens to fool him into thinking it really was Rachel, because she didn’t want her sister to be humiliated. Even so.
The fact that Jacob gets paid back, measure for measure, proves that he was indeed regarded as deserving it for his treatment of his father. But then Jacob, having been taken advantage of by Lavan, in turn uses his superior knowledge of animal husbandry to massively increase his livestock at Lavan’s expense. Our own behavior often results in bad and in good things happening back to us. The cycle continues. Midah KeNeged Midah.
There is a subtle parallel between last week’s reading and this. Last week Rebecca and Jacob seemed to take advantage of Isaac’s blindness to dress Jacob as Esau and ‘steal’ the blessing away from him. The role of Isaac is difficult to understand. If you suspect something is going on, then simply refuse to be steamrolled into doing something that goes against your wishes. He could easily have rescinded the blessing and re-given it to Esau had he really wanted to.
Here too Jacob realized that the events were part of a Divine plan. And in the end Leah was much more instrumental in providing sons and the major tribes, than Rachel was.
Sometimes our logic tells us one thing but our intuition tells us something else. Perhaps God works through intuition too! Of course, there’s a difference between trying to work out which horse will a race and what is the best for the future of a people and its religion.