Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch
Rabbi Shimshon Refael HirschE. Resnick

The best part about telling the truth is not having to remember what you said. So goes a famous line on the virtue of honesty. In a similar fashion, one could suggest that the best part about acting honorably is not having to feel guilty when facing someone you’ve swindled.

In the leadup to meeting Esav, “Yaakov was greatly afraid and distressed” (Bereishis 32:8). Why? Wasn’t he used to confronting evil people? Hadn’t he lived with – and stood up to – his father-in-law Lavan over the previous two decades? So why the sudden timidity before his twin brother?

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that Yaakov’s nervousness stemmed from his discomfort with having tricked Yitzchak 22 years earlier into giving him the blessing intended for Esav.

“Yaakov caused Esav to cry out one cry…and that was repaid in Shushan when [Haman caused us] ‘to cry with a loud and exceedingly bitter cry,’” says Bereishis Rabba 67. The Tanchuma (Toldos 24) states that Yaakov caused three tears to well up in Esav’s eyes, and the third one has “salted our bread [of exile] with tears and made us taste tears in threefold measure.”

Yaakov’s motivation for tricking Yitzchak is understandable, but his behavior ill-befitted the forefather of a nation “whose name of honor is yeshurun [straight],” writes Rav Hirsch after quoting these two Midrashic passages.

So while Yaakov stood confidently before Lavan, he felt most uncomfortable meeting Esav. For “the consciousness of innocence gives” a person strength, but “even an appearance of guilt awakens” an “oppressive feeling.”

“Twenty years endurance of a fight against wrong that you innocently have to bear do not have such a depressing effect as one minute’s feeling towards somebody whom we know feels hurt by us,” Rav Hirsch writes.

The lesson for us? Stick to the straight and narrow path. Not only is its G-d’s will, it provides peace of mind.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) – head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, Germany for over 35 years – was a prolific writer whose ideas, passion, and brilliance helped save German Jewry from the onslaught of modernity.

Elliot Resnick, PhD, is the host of “The Elliot Resnick Show” and the editor of an upcoming work on etymological explanations in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash.

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