Depiction of Jacob spurs objection
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Depiction of Jacob spurs objection

If all I knew about Jacob came from the characterization supplied by Rabbi Arthur Weiner in his Vayetze d’var Torah (Nov. 12), I’d wonder how he could possibly be included among our revered forefathers.

Regarding Jacob’s suffering, Rabbi Weiner offers that “Lack of moral direction does indeed have its consequences” and later refers to Jacob’s years of exile from his homeland as “an exile caused by his guile and mistreatment of others.” While I agree with the rabbi’s sentiment that even the greatest of our leaders have made their mistakes and the Torah clearly does not gloss over them (which is refreshing compared with the offerings of other religions), the picture he paints of Jacob borders on heresy.

Without launching into a detailed defense of Jacob’s character, consider that Abraham was known foremost for his attribute of kindness, Isaac for that of strength, and Jacob for truth. Biblical truth is simply not compatible with guile, lack of moral direction, and mistreatment of others, so clearly there is more going on that allows Jacob to obtain Esau’s blessing for himself. Otherwise, why would God promise Jacob “Behold I am with you; I will guard you wherever you go”? Why would He appear to Lavan in a dream and warn him not to harm Jacob and, perhaps most telling, why would He choose Jacob from among the forefathers as the one to father the 12 tribes who serve as the cornerstone of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Weiner responds:

Whether as a result of faulty scholarship or faulty logic, Robert Isler not only misunderstands my d’var Torah but the role of Torah in general, and the patriarchs in particular, in the life of the Jewish people.

Let me offer several brief ideas that I hope that Mr. Isler will consider before he accuses me or anyone else of “bordering on heresy,” a most obnoxious assertion that he offers without any substantiation or sources.

Our forefather Jacob was chosen by God to carry on the heritage of Abraham and Isaac before he was even born (Genesis 25:22-23). Before any human being knew anything about what his life might be like, he was destined for leadership and greatness. Nothing Jacob would do or could do would change this simple fact. Mr. Isler sets up his question in order for us to believe that somehow Jacob’s behavior and personal qualities alone earned him our eternal regard, and if we don’t see this, we must be at fault. This is certainly not so, and to make this claim is to ignore this unique prophecy that was shared with his mother Rebecca.

The assertion that Jacob was known for the attribute of truth is not a biblical truth but one found in the mystical tradition. Though the mystical tradition is both precious and deep, the two are not the same. The biblical truth is that even the greatest of the classical Mefarshim (biblical commentators) have trouble reconciling many of Jacob’s poor decisions that I sought to explain in my column. Yet they can revere a Jacob, who like his father and grandfather, is great yet at the same time capable of the same mistakes that might befall all human beings.

Jacob did indeed suffer for his abandonment of the Torah’s strict moral code. But we are not destined to repeat these mistakes. Each of us is challenged by questions of right and wrong each day of our lives. May God bless us with the knowledge and the strength to make the right choices.

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