Normalizing falsehood

Identity theft.  Business scams.  Misrepresentation in social media.  Fictional accounts of events.  Doctored images.  Today’s world can sometimes feel awash in falsehood.  Even worse, such a trend may be generating an unintended tolerance for duplicity.  Lying that no longer feels remarkable somehow becomes more allowable.

Distrust saturates a biblical Jacob’s world in this week’s portion of Torah.  Well known is the deceptive switch in Jacob’s marrying Leah instead of his intended bride, Rachel. This is how the Torah elects to rebuke falsehood.  Rather than moralize about the importance of being honest, Scripture’s lesson becomes clear over time: the consequence for Jacob’s prior deception of his father is entering a world in which nobody around him can be trusted.   Even Jacob and Rachel’s bond will end tragically because of mistrust.  Rachel deceives Jacob when she steals her father Laban’s idols, inviting a fatal vow from a frustrated Jacob: “let the person with whom you (Laban) find your idols not continue to live” (Gen. 31:32).

Distrust can even develop a heart condition. When Jacob and his family flee from Laban in the darkness of night, the Torah dramatizes the emotional impact of this scheme. “Jacob stole Laban’s heart” (Gen. 31:20). Coronary consequences can flow from manipulative deceit.  I believe that God’s Torah is conveying heart disease so dramatically to polemicize against it.  Just as a subtle rebuke of falsehood – as you sow, so shall you reap – is the Torah’s way of asserting the value of honesty, so too conduct that makes a person heartsick conveys a strong disapproval.

The antidote?   Firmly adhering to the values of honesty, integrity, and earned trust.  They remain essential Ideals that are to be brought to life.  Even more so when they are at risk as they are today.  May we embrace moments of heartwarming honesty which celebrate cherished virtues that are urgently called for and remain deeply worthy.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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