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Q&A

Ya'akov as a trickster

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I'm trying to understand (the classical Jewish view of) the character of Yaakov.

He gets the birthright by exploiting a situation -- he did nothing inherently wrong and WE see him as justified in getting the bracha, but he took advantage of his brother's weakness to get it. The optics are questionable.

He grows his flock by employing a strategy in terms of manipulating genetics -- he did nothing wrong but it might look like he invoked an unfair advantage to manipulate the situation. The optics are questionable.

He sends out a gift to Eisav but tells his people to stretch the caravan across the desert to create the visual image of a significant gift. True, the gift was whatever size it was, but he wants to make it LOOK big to appease Eisav. He did nothing wrong, but the optics of the show? Questionable.

In these cases, we accept that he was right, justified or somehow else above reproach [though, interestingly, he criticizes Lavan for "tricking" him in terms of a wife when Lavan, also, was just applying his laws and leveraging his position]. But we, as a halachic rule, try not to engage in behaviors which have an appearance of impropriety (to avoid mar'it ayin issues).

So while we comport ourselves in a way that doesn't even look bad, Yaakov is defined by events that stress a proper subtext despite a surface-problematic appearance.

Are there any commentators which discuss why it is acceptable to twist situations to ones advantage even when flying in the face of a concept like mar'it ayin?

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What you do if your life depended on it. Esav was about to kill Yaakov, would you not employ 'optics'... (5 comments)

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