Deception lays at the heart of this week’s Torah reading. Jacob swindled his brother Esau out of his birthright, and then deceived his father Isaac to receive the blessing of the first born.
Later, Jacob was deceived by Laban and Leah. Jacob woke up after his wedding night to find Leah instead of his love, her sister Rachel. One of our traditional stories of interpretation, from Genesis Rabbah 70:17, depicts the entire drama:
Jacob said to Leah, ‘Deceiver, daughter of a deceiver! Did I not call you Rachel and you answered me?!’
She replied, ‘Is there a master without students? Did your father not call you Esau and you answered him?!’”
As Jews we grapple with the reality of human behavior, especially in the stories of our patriarchs. Deception breeds deception. Only by wrestling with his conscience, by literally grappling with a divine being, did Jacob eventually become Israel, “God-wrestler”, and so become ready to face his brother Esau decades later. As our society struggles with deception and truth in public and private spheres, I hope that we can all find our better selves, make amends when called for, and move forward each and every day with greater clarity and compassion.