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Parashat Toldot starts the story of the third link of the Avot- Yaakov, and we encounter his struggle with his brother- Eisav, Esau, in order to establish which of these brothers will be the one to inherit the special status as the continuation of Yitzchak.
This struggle has a number of episodes, and the central one in our Parasha is the "stealing of the blessings", where Yaakov convinces his father that he is actually Eisav, and thus receives the blessings that Yitzchak was going to bestow on his favourite son- Eisav.
As part of this disguise, Yaakov finds himself having to answer his father's inquiry- "Who are you, my son?" with the words "I am Esau your firstborn", that seem to be an outright lie. Rashi quoting the Midrash Tanchuma tries to "soften" the crudeness of this lie by interpreting it in a way that makes it into something that is not a falsehood- " I am the one who is bringing you [food] and Esau is your firstborn. "
But this justification is not convincing at all- clearly Yaakov's words were aimed at misleading Yitzchak into believing that this is Eisav standing before him. That is what Yaakov wanted to achieve and the words spoken cannot be given any other convincing interpretation. So what is Rashi trying to do through this commentary? He surely does not think we are going to be convinced that Yaakov was actually being truthful? Yitzchak himself tells Eisav-" Your brother came in deceit and took your blessing".
Even more surprising is the merit that is attributed to Yaakov by Chazal- Emet- Truthfulness. This is based on the words of Michah (7:20) "You shall give the truth of Jacob…". But this is the absolute opposite of what seems to dominate Yaakov's life. Yaakov seems to live all his life through deceit, cunning and complications. He first emerges into the world holding on to Eisav's foot trying to prevent him from being the firstborn, then acquires the firstborn rights by taking advantage of Eisav's weakness, steals the blessings, finds himself having to deal with Lavan who tries to deceive him once and again, and even once free of all this, lives through the deceit of his sons regarding the fate of Yossef. How can we characterize Yaakov with truthfulness?
To understand this, we need to look at the first instance of complication- the birth of Yaakov and Eisav and Yaakov holding onto Eisav's foot. Rashi based on Midrash Rabba explains why he did this- "He (Jacob) held onto him lawfully, to restrain him. Jacob was formed from the first drop and Esau from the second. Go forth and learn from a tube that has a narrow opening. Insert two stones into it, one after the other. The one that entered first will emerge last, and the one that entered last will emerge first. The result is that Esau, who was formed last, emerged first, and Jacob, who was formed first emerged last, and Jacob came to restrain him so that he (Jacob) should be the first to be born as he was the first to be formed, and he would open her womb and take the birthright by law"
Yaakov symbolizes the truth in its most pure form- he was actually formed first. The problem arises in our world of reality where the truth cannot be expressed fully- like the tube that does not allow the stone inside to emerge first as should be. This expresses that our material world is full of complications and although there is a truth in essence, it is not always possible to see it.
Yaakov's characteristic is truth, but not a truth that is easy to see, but rather an absolute truth that at times cannot be expressed in a way that it is so obvious that this is truthfulness. David tells us–"… But with a perverse one, You deal crookedly." (Shmuel B, 22:27) and Shlomo teaches us – "Answer a fool according to his folly lest he be wise in his sight" (Mishlei 27:5) so we see there are times that the requirement of truthfulness is actually to act in a way that seems outwardly as untruthful, but is motivated by the will to be truthful. Someone who is connected to truth in its inner sense can give up on the outer truth for the sake of an inner truth, while a person who is only outwardly and superficially connected with truth, will be concerned with the immediate and external show of truth, even when in essence it misses the point of truthfulness.
But a person that truthfulness is an essential part of his personality, even at times he finds himself in a situation where he needs to give up the external and immediate truth for the sake of the inner truth, this characteristic of his- truth, will prevail and effect the way the untruthfulness is expressed- it will be said in a way that the deceit is minimized. It is as if the sub-conscious causes him to choose words and phrases that "minimize" to whatever extent possible the untruthfulness.
Maybe- this is what Rashi is trying to convey to us. Rashi clearly is not trying to cover up on Yaakov's deceit. Rashi is trying to show that Yaakov- the man of truth- of inner truth, even when forced by reality (shaped by Eisav's deceit of Yaakov) to use deceit in order to convey the inner truth of his supremacy over Eisav, the words he chooses to use have within them the possibility of having a meaning that is not untrue. His mouth did not emit a sentence that is unequivocally untrue, although clearly designed to deceive Yitzchak into believing that Eisav is the one standing in front of him.
This is a true characteristic of a person of truth- an inherent inability to produce an absolute untruth, even within a situation that demands acting in deceit and untruthfulness- Titen Emet LeYaakov.
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