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Parashat Toledot: Honesty is the Best Policy

The Torah in Parashat Toledot tells the story of the blessings which Yishak wished to grant to his older son, Esav, but were "stolen" by the younger twin, Yaakob. Since his youth, Esav had succeeded in fooling his father into thinking he was pious and G-d-fearing, and this resulted in Yishak’s desire to grant Esav the blessing. Ribka, however, understood Esav’s true character, that he was sinful and corrupt, and so she had Yaakob disguise himself as Esav so he would receive the blessings in his brother’s stead.

The question arises as to why the events needed to unfold in this manner. Why did G-d arrange it such that Yaakob – the son who was clearly worthy of Yishak’s blessing – would have to receive the blessing by disguising himself as Esav? Why couldn’t this have happened in a simple, straightforward manner?

The Hatam Sofer (Rav Moshe Sofer of Pressburg, 1762-1839) proposed a remarkable answer to this question. The Sages teach that even great Sadikim cannot receive Ru’ah Ha’kodesh – prophetic insight – in a state of despondency and depression. Thus, for example, for the twenty-two years that Yaakob was separated from his beloved son, Yosef, he did not have access to Ru’ah Ha’kodesh. If Yishak had recognized Esav’s true character, and realized how evil he was, this knowledge would have caused him such sorrow and angst that he would have lost his Ru’ah Ha’kodesh. And without Ru’ah Ha’kodesh, he would not have been able to bless either son. In order to ensure that Yaakob would receive Yishak’s blessing, G-d arranged that Yishak would remain unaware of who Esav really was, and this way he would be able to experience the joy and serenity needed to bestow his blessing. Yaakob was then able to disguise as Esav so that he would receive the blessing in his place.

The Hatam Sofer explained that this was Yishak’s intent when, after realizing what had happened, he said to Esav, "Ba Ahicha Be’mirma Va’yikah Birchatecha" – "Your brother came with deceit and took your blessing" (27:35). Yishak was saying that Yaakob was able to receive the blessing "Be’mirma" – through Esav’s deceit, through his having deceived his father throughout his life. If he had not lived a lie, and had not tried to conceal his true character, Yishak would have been unable to bless Yaakob. It was specifically because Esav deceived Yishak that Yishak had the ability to grant a blessing to Yaakob.

The Hatam Sofer added that this also explains the symbolic significance of Yaakob’s holding onto Esav’s heel at the time of their birth, as the Torah describes earlier in the Parasha (25:26). The word for "heel" – "Akeb" – is related to the verb "A.K.B.," which means "trickery." Yaakob "held on" to Esav’s trickery in the sense that it was Esav’s deceitful nature that enabled him to receive his father’s blessing.

The lesson that emerges from the Hatam Sofer’s analysis is that honesty is always the best policy. We never gain by lying. There are many times in business, social relations and other contexts where we are tempted to distort the truth, when it appears that we can help ourselves by dealing with people dishonestly. If there’s anything we can learn from Esav, it’s that to the contrary, we only hurt ourselves when we lie. Just as Esav made things worse for himself by deceiving his father, we, too, will always lose in the end when we speak dishonestly.

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