Let’s not split hairs. Jacob was not honest with his father when allowing Isaac to believe he was Eisav and received the blessing of the first born. Rebecca was not honest when acting as Jacob’s handler in planning and implementing the infamous goat skin deception. Did Jacob really think he was paying a fair price and was making a real and enforceable bargain for his brother’s birthright? If he did, why didn’t he just tell Isaac the truth and get the blessing honestly? Oh how some commentators torture the text to avoid the plain truth while others acknowledge that many times deception and dishonesty are not only warranted, but commendable. Genesis is full of it—deception that is. How many examples can you think of?
We are allowed to dissemble to avoid hurting feelings—“Isn’t my daughter the most beautiful bride you have ever seen?” or “Honey, can you tell that I have lost weight?” We may fudge to avoid spreading gossip—“Did you hear about…?” Certainly, saving lives would be an exception—“Where are the Jews hiding?” How about defeating or overcoming the mystical forces of evil? How about fulfilling your destiny?
There are so many examples in the Torah of when deception is acceptable that one must conclude that it is justifiable when the deceiver believes that he or she is acting for a higher good. The standard is a purely subjective one, so the commentators really work hard to give some of our ancestors the benefit of the doubt (Sarah really could be described as Abraham’s sister because….?).
If you believe that your lie will ultimately lead to a positive effect, the Torah seems to allow it. In that case, the end justifies the means. What do you think of that? Some explain this as justifying the little “white” lie. Do you think that the birthright story involved little white lies?
This Shabbat at Adat Shalom Synagogue we learn with Rabbi Aaron Bergman. He has some insights into our matriarch Rebecca that may surprise you. 10:00 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel.
A growing number of us are making this Torah study a regular part of our Shabbat, whether we come or stay for anything else. It is your destiny. I wouldn’t lie to you about that.