Josh Appel
Sharing Ideas

The Evil of Misplaced Sensitivity

Our very first description of יעקב אבינו following his birth is that he was an איש תם יושב אהלים. The literal translation of תם is simple. However, the מדרש says that תם can also mean perfect and חז”ל say that יעקב was born מהול. Whether this is literal or not is not for us to know, but clearly חז”ל are trying to tell us something about יעקב’s character – that he had integrity and wholeness.

With this introduction we are struck by the following realization. In both פרשת תולדות and ויצא we find יעקב involved in some sort of a swindle or lie. In the former יעקב disguises himself as עשו, perhaps even tricking his father into giving him the ברכה. And in this week’s פרשה we see יעקב pull off an elaborate plan to profit off of לבן’s cattle! How can it be that the איש תם, the אמת ליקעב, was involved in lies such as these!?

The answer to this question is exceedingly relevant in our own time.

יעקב’s trickery of עשו and לבן was not a compromise to his אמת but instead a corollary to it. Truth means not giving in to misplaced sensitivity. In our 21st century mind, sensitivity has been placed on such a pedestal to a point where it has been entirely distorted. In our own streets and cities, citizens who purport to support kindness simultaneously support Hamas and its interests. When our sensitivity is misplaced it becomes corrupted. יעקב was not asked to allow עשו to do as he pleased under the guise of “sensitivity.” Rather, he was tasked with taking charge and implementing justice in the face of evil.

Similarly, רש”י quotes the מדרש on the פסוק, “ויגד יעקב לרחל כי אחי אביה הוא”, that יעקב told himself “If Lavan will act with trickery towards me, then I am his brother in trickery, and if he will act properly with me then I am the son of Rivkah his righteous sister.” And yet, we know that when יעקב meets עשו once again the מדרש also teaches that יעקב told עשו that he kept all 613 מצות and didn’t learn from the evil ways of לבן. Doesn’t יעקב’s trickery indicate that he didn’t keep all the מצות and that he did in fact learn from לבן? The answer is that sensitivity doesn’t mean allowing everything to be shrugged off. The משנה in אבות says הוי דן את כל אדם לכף זכות but many מפורשים note that if you know for certain that someone is evil then you should specifically go out of your way to not give them the benefit of the doubt! Putting your head in the sand and not taking a stance against evil is evil itself. Elie Wiesel famously noted that “we must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

יעקב’s justice in the face of evil actors who sought to take advantage of him is the ultimate truth.

About the Author
A writer from New York with a degree in history from YU and Semicha from RIETS
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