To provide the naive with slyness

לתת לפתאים ערמה (משלי א׳ ד׳)

Vayishlach 5775

© Rabbi David Lapin, 2014
What the Midrash Means Series – 1:8

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Context

On his journey home, Yaacov gets news that his twin brother Eisav has set out to meet him with a large and aggressive army. Yaacov fears that despite G-d’s promise of protection in the previous parsha, he might not have lived up to G-d’s expectations while he was living with Lavan, and the promise may therefore not be valid any more. In addition to praying for his and his large family’s safety, he prepares for war. Importantly however, he also tries the diplomatic route sending Eisav gifts and a message of peace.

Midrash

ויאמר אם יבא עשו אל המחנה האחת והכהו באותה שעה אמר אבינו יעקב לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבונו של עולם כתבת בתורתך (ויקרא יב) ושור או שה אותו ואת בנו לא תשחטו ביום אחד אם יבא רשע זה ויאבד את בני ואת אמם כאחת ספר תורה שאתה עתיד ליתן על הר סיני מי יקרא בו בבקשה ממך הצילני נא מידו שלא יבא ויכני אם על בנים שנאמר הצילני נא מה עשה עמד ושלח לו דורון לסמות את עיניו שנאמר (דברים טו) כי השוחד יעור עיני חכמים ואין חכמים אלא אדומים
(ב”ר פר׳ ע׳ה ס׳ י”ג)

Translation

And he (Yaacov) said, if Eisav should attack the one camp and smite it, then the other will survive(Bereishit 32:8).” At that moment our father Yaacov declared before Hashem, “Blessed Holy One, Master of the Universe, you wrote in your Torah, And an ox or lamb should not be slaughtered on the same day as their young are (Vayikra 18).If this wicked man (Eisav) should come and destroy my sons and their mother at once, then who will read the Torah you intend to give at Sinai? I beg, please save me from him so that he not smite us, mothers in the presence of their children. What did he do? He acted. He sent him a gift to blind his eyes, as it says (Devarim 15) “for bribery will blind the eyes of the chachamim (the wise).” And the term “chachamim” refers to none other than the Edomim (descendants of Eisav).

He’arot – Observations

  • Yaacov does not rely on Hashem’s promise of protection, prayer or his valid claim that wiping out the Jewish people at this stage would defeat the purpose of the giving of the Torah. Despite these, Yaacov gears himself for action.
  • Yaacov’s actions include both war strategies and diplomacy – the sending of gifts.
  • Eisav is called a chacham – a wise man.
  • The gifts that Yaacov sends are referred to as a bribe.

Meaning

The Art of Seduction

She spent the day tending her eight children, as she does every day. When her husband left for work in the morning, she was still in her bathrobe, hair uncombed, and face without make-up. That’s how it was every morning. By the end of the day she was busy in the kitchen preparing an evening meal for her family and starting to get Shabbas ready as well. She looks as unkempt at the end of the day as she did at its beginning. Not because she wants it that way but because she hadn’t had a moment to herself the entire day. Now, before her husband comes home she does take time to fix her appearance. She rushes about, skillfully transforming herself into a beautiful and alluring woman. She doesn’t want him to see her the way she is most of the time. She wants to be attractive to him, and she is. Disguise or presentation?

A car is driven into the showroom of a used car dealer. It is dented, scratched and filthy. “Nothing some body work, a thorough cleaning and some good detailing can’t fix,” said the sales manager. “She’ll be the beauty of the floor when we have readied her for display.” Disguise or presentation?

“You can’t go out on a date looking like that,” the mother chastised her 19-year old daughter. “Why not?” she replied. “I don’t believe in make-up, high-heeled shoes, flashy jewelry and all that stuff. It’s inauthentic. I believe in being natural. He can take me or leave me.” Disguise or presentation?

The candidate needs training in how to stand, his handshake needs some work, his fashion choices will need to be modified. He will need some voice training as well. Disguise or presentation?

There is a form of deception that we all use all of the time, and it is a talent, and a manifestation of wisdom. Consider Eisav’s talent of seduction. He deceived people with his charisma and his power of speech and even managed to deceive his own father. And yet, our Midrash refers to him as a chacham, a wise man. A similar idea appears in the Vilna Gaon on Mishlei 1:4 where he statesthat a purpose of King Solomon’s book of Mishlei (Proverbs) is to provide naive people with a measure of slyness.

Authenticity – The Voice of Yaacov

Ya’acov acquires this sly characteristic when he deceives his father that he is Eisav in order to get the blessings of the first born which Eisav had earlier ceded to him. After the blind Yitzchak’s initial confusion he determines before blessing this son that the man before him has the inner voice of Yaacov but the manipulative abilities (yadayim) of Eisav. He recognizes that amazingly, this pure young man, Ya’acov, had learnt the wisdom of deception without compromising his own inner voice. He can manipulate, persuade and seduce like Eisav, but he retains the Yaacov authenticity. 

Disguise hides essence; presentation amplifies it. When an actor puts on make-up she is disguising herself. When a woman puts on make-up, she highlights her inherent beauty. When a person gives gifts to a judge he is disguising his guilt. When a man courts a woman entertaining her lavishly and showering her with gifts, he highlights his generosity. When a company displays and advertises its goods, it amplifies their benefits. We never just say things as they are, or dish up meals as they come out of the oven. We present our thoughts with style, we garnish the dishes we serve and adorn the tables on which we serve them. We invest time, energy and money to make ourselves, our ideas and our products attractive to others. There is some manipulation and seduction in adding to the attractiveness of a person or thing, yet it is not deceit but an essential component of dynamic interpersonal engagement. The gifts or even compliments we give are often designed to influence the way the recipient experiences us but not in a way of deceiving him about who we really are. Adding to our attractiveness is a form of manipulation as is the art of seduction, but this manipulation – other than when it is an illegal bribe – is artful.

The art is to be able to present oneself, ones ideas and ones merchandise in the most seductive way possible and always be seductive to those one wishes to engage with, but at the same time never ever to compromise ones authenticity in the process. This is having the kol, the inner voice of Yaacov, but the hands of Eisav. This form of seduction is wisdom. It is a wisdom that Eisav possessed and corrupted, and one which Yaacov acquired and purified.

Yaacov uses this acquired characteristic of seduction in his preparation for confrontation with Eisav. He “blinds” the lens of hatred and anger through which he views Yaacov so as to seduce his violent brother into seeing him at his best but as he really is.

The Learning

Do not rest complacently when facing challenges or opportunities. Act as though you cannot assume that Hashem will help. Galvanize, strategize and act.
Be ready to fight for what you believe in whether an idea, our nation, our religion or our families. But use every conceivable strategy to succeed without the fight. Do this only in ways that do not compromise your essence.
Bringing out the very best of ourselves, our wares, our ideas, our nation or our Torah and making them appear attractive are the way we influence and impact. It is how we make a difference in the world.
Diplomacy, gift-giving and chessed are tools of seduction, the seduction that the Midrash calls chochma, wisdom; an art.