Jacob fools his father Isaac, disguising himself as Esau and taking the blessing.
How does the Torah itself regard his action? The subtle critique can be found later on in Jacob’s story. He works for seven years to marry Laban’s daughter Rachel. At the end of that time, however, he wakes up in bed next to Leah. The Rabbis imagine that when he upbraids Leah for conniving with her sister, she answers — “Are there teachers without disciples?” In other words, you had it coming, buddy.
Jacob pretended to be his brother. He was deceived by Leah pretending to be her sister. He fooled his blind father by touch, and could not himself distinguish the feel of Leah from the feel of Rachel while blinded in the dark of night. The result in one case was that he benefitted from the blessing. In the other case, he had to work an additional seven years.
Our tradition calls this comeuppance, “middah k’neged middah” — measure for measure. It has affinities to the idea of karma. There is a moral order to the universe, and sooner or later, what we do will affect what is done to us. Learning this helped Jacob grow into Israel.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).