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The posuk Gen. 25:27 says:

וְיַעֲקֹב אִישׁ תָּם - Ya’akov was a simple man.

Rashi comments on this:

מי שאינו חריף לרמות קרוי תם - One who is not astute at deceiving is called תָּם, innocent.

The problem is later on posuk 29:12 when Ya’akov told Rachel that he is her father’s brother, Rashi comments:

אם לרמאות הוא בא גם אני אחיו ברמאות - If he (Laban) comes to deceive me, I, too, am his brother in deception.

So it seems Ya’akov is "astute at deceiving". If so, what does תָּם mean in reference to Ya’akov?

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This question seems to presume that the description in 25:27 is meant to be a definitive law that would govern everything he would ever do. Few people can be defined so one-dimensionally. –  Isaac Moses Nov 22 '11 at 3:00
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@IsaacMoses: Isn't it the Torah that defines Yaakov and Eisav so one-dimensionally? - "And the youths grew up, and Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents." –  Menachem Nov 22 '11 at 4:11
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@Menachem, where in that description does the Torah indicate that everything these two would ever do would be governed by these summaries? Does "Isaac is a moderator." mean that everything I do is moderate? :) –  Isaac Moses Nov 22 '11 at 4:51
    
@IsaacMoses And we see that is no longer even true! (for now) –  Double AA Dec 9 '12 at 15:56

3 Answers 3

The sefer Yalkut HaGershoni here writes in the name of R. Tzvi Yaakov Klein:

Ya’akov was very wise as we see from his cunning in dealing with Eisav and Lavan. Therefore he was called an איש תם, a man - a master - of guilelessness, and so according to the needs of the moment he would set aside his guilelessness and use cunning and deceit.

However, someone who is not in fact astute in deceiving is called only תם - guileless, and not an איש תם. This is what Rashi means when he said that one who is not astute in deceiving is called תם - only.

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See also the חוזה מלובלין cited here: hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=41775&pgnum=107. "יעקב was called איש תם because.. he was master over תמימות. He knew how how/when to use it appropriately and when to push it aside and fulfill the verse (Ps 18:27) "With the crooked, deal crookedly".... –  Ephraim Nov 17 at 18:41

To add to Avi's answer: We find 3 stages in Ya'akov's development for the life in the "real world".

  1. We he buys the firstborn rights, we see how does it in order to avoid future claims that he tricked Eisav. For example he gave him bread BEFORE the nezid. Doing so, Eisav would not be starved to death when coming to eat the nezid, avoiding a claim that eating it was Pikuach Nefesh.

  2. When he got the blessings that were intended for Eisav, we see how he did it completely against his will and nature. He had to do it because his mother commanded him.

  3. In the way to Charan Ya'akov spent 14 years at the Yeshiva of Shem and Eiver. He did that in order to prepare himself for the confrontation with Laban. This would be the highest level of "real world".

We then see how he prepared to meet with Eisav on his way back, a preparation so complete that is used as a prototype of such confrontations. So as Avi said, all this "real world" stuff was against his nature.

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Do you have a source for this answer? –  msh210 Nov 22 '11 at 17:54

What is going on here is that Rashi is showing us the development of Yaakov and the ways of learning Torah. (creating wisdom)

By his nature, Yaakov is "Tam" and he spends his time in the tents learning. Through this process of learning, Yaakov is able to learn about his uncle Lavan and though it is against his nature, he can 'play with the best of them.'

Also, even though Yaakov has his own traits, he is not immune from the traits of other parts of his family.

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while both of these explanations (especially the first) sound reasonable to me, do you have a source for either? –  msh210 Nov 22 '11 at 17:40

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