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I'm a bit puzzled that the concepts of cheating and deception seem to repeat themselves in almost every weekly parsha from Toldot through Vayechi.

Ya'akov apparently takes advantage of a tired Esav by having him sell the birthright so that he can eat some food. One could argue that a tired starving person isn't exactly thinking straight. Or, even if he knew what he was doing, he didn't expect that selling the birthright meant that he would forfeit the blessings from his father.

Then, Ya'akov deceives his own father to get the blessing and tells him that he is Esav, wears Esav's clothes to fool him, etc.

Yes, we see that Lavan deceived Ya'akov by having him marry Leah first instead of Rachel. But, Ya'akov takes revenge against Lavan with the way he dealt with the sheep. (Doesn't the Torah teach that one should not take revenge or bear a grudge?)

The brothers deceive Ya'akov by convincing him that Yosef is dead.

The brothers deceive Shchem and Chamor telling them that they will live with them providing that they will circumcise themselves and all males in the city. All knowing that they planned on killing everyone, there.

Yosef deceives his brothers by initially jailing them and accusing them of being spies.

Why does the Torah decide to resolve each of these incidents of deception and, apparently, does not depict any charge or wrong-doing for that? Couldn't each of these people have resolved their differences via negotiating or some other means? Or, if G-d is supposed to protect our forefathers, he could have performed a miracle or just altered events so that such deception would have been unnecessary.

  • Consider asking these questions separately, as there is no reason a priori that there is one answer for all of them. – mevaqesh Nov 27 '17 at 3:31
  • The questions about Ya'akov's behaviour seem like dupes of these questions: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/28939/8775 and judaism.stackexchange.com/q/11410/8775. – mevaqesh Nov 27 '17 at 3:34
  • But, Ya'akov takes revenge against Lavan with the way he dealt with the sheep Why assume this was meant as revenge? – mevaqesh Nov 27 '17 at 3:35
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    IMO, Yaakov didn't trick Eisav at all because he was hungry. It's clear from the narrative that Eisav sells his birthright to Yaakov for a bowl of lentils because he doesn't consider the birthright to be so important (at least, at the time). He didn't want the responsibility of being the bechor. – ezra Nov 27 '17 at 3:51
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    Note that the end of the birthright story is that Eisav despised the birthright. He only wanted the wealth but not the (spiritual) responsibility. Also he moved away because he did not want the 400 years of slavery that had been prophesied. Each question is dealt with by the commentators in detail. The theme is that the trials of Yaakov are that he was faced with the attack on his main trait (truth) as Avraham was faced with the attack on his main trait (chesed). – sabbahillel Nov 27 '17 at 11:34
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Addressing the ones including Yaakov, where deception is used for seeming financial gain:

The firstborn right was the right to serve as the family Cohen. Eisav was not exactly the right type. Thus Yaakov was ensuring the right thing happened. As for the 'deception':

One could argue that a tired starving person isn't exactly thinking straight.

And indeed, the Torah tells us that Eisav abused the firstborn right after eating.

As for they blessings, they come with the firstborn right - look how Yitzchak, once that is revealed, is perfectly happy with the status quo (even reaffirming according to Chazal (see Rashi there) that the blessings should be Yaakov's

Yaakov did not take revenge with the sheep - he was avoiding Lavan's attempt at swindling him, and his 'stick' trick was only to enable a neis to happen - sheep's colour is not really determined by sticks.

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To address the questions about Yaakov's trickery, note that these were all cases in which he was attempting to collect his dues. These events are consistent with the dictum: אם ללצים הוא יליץ, ולענוים יתן חן (Mishlei 3, 34). There is a place for deception, it is only wrong when used wrongfully. As we must surely assume that all these episodes that you mention are justifiable, the deception itself is a non-issue.

  • As we must surely assume that all these episodes that you mention are justifiable This seems circular. The question seemed to be (although it was sufficiently poorly formulated that it is difficult to tell exactly) why their behaviour was acceptable. Saying that it was great so it must have been acceptable in those circumstances, is a circular argument. The phenomenon you are trying to explain isnt proof for the hypothesis. – mevaqesh Nov 27 '17 at 3:48
  • Consider clarifying how the birthright was Ya'akov's due. – mevaqesh Nov 27 '17 at 4:16
  • @heshy This is an excellent answer. I find it very compelling. – SAH Aug 8 '18 at 7:02
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I would challenge your hypotheses, as stated in the question: "Why does the Torah seem to tolerate cheating".

We see that all the cheaters were punished eventually for their cheating.

To analyze a few that you mention:

Ya'akov apparently takes advantage of a tired Esav by having him sell the birthright so that he can eat some food.

This example of yours is not a good one.

Yaakov does not take advantage of a tired Esav, but rather provides him with bread - that he didn't ask for. Esav had the choice of eating the bread gratis, and then negotiating for the lentils he so coveted.

Then, Ya'akov deceives his own father to get the blessing and tells him that he is Esav, wears Esav's clothes to fool him, etc.

And then he is punished in kind when his own children sell Yosef and dip Yosef's robe in blood to fool him.

Yes, we see that Lavan deceived Ya'akov by having him marry Leah first instead of Rachel. But, Ya'akov takes revenge against Lavan with the way he dealt with the sheep. (Doesn't the Torah teach that one should not take revenge or bear a grudge?)

Another no-so-good example.

Where do you see revenge? A simple reading shows that he's simply protecting himself from Lavan's constant switching of the conditions of the deal they made.

The brothers deceive Ya'akov by convincing him that Yosef is dead.

They regretted this, as stated later when Yosef imprisoned them, even stating it was a punishment for the sale.

The brothers deceive Shchem and Chamor telling them that they will live with them providing that they will circumcise themselves and all males in the city. All knowing that they planned on killing everyone, there.

Here the Torah seems to explicitly state that they delt cunningly, yet the Targum already tells us they dealy with foresight and cleverly.

This was the only method they had to punish an entire evil village where raping a 6-year-old was considered acceptable.

Yosef deceives his brothers by initially jailing them and accusing them of being spies.

Ignoring the explanation that he was trying to get his prophecies to come true, this can be seen as a simple punishment for his brothers. After all they had sold him into slavery.

He wasn't tricking them by jailing them, he was being kind by later releasing them.

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    Rebuttal accepted. – DanF Nov 27 '17 at 16:48
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    This is good @DannySchoemann. I also learned that being tricked by Lavan was Yakov's punishment for tricking Eisav and (especially) his father. (If anyone else who's heard this could identify the source, I'd be grateful.) – SAH Aug 8 '18 at 6:55
  • @SAH - I can't find it, even though it sounds familiar. Maybe make it a real question and the team will find it for us. – Danny Schoemann Aug 8 '18 at 10:58
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I saw you already accepted an answer, but anyway, I'd like to address a general approach of examples of clear overriding Torah's commandments by Tzaddikim.

  1. You are absolutely right, noticing that the Torah not only 'tolerates' openly forbidden behaviors, but explicitly allows overriding the Torah commandments when needed - "עת לעשות לה' הפרו תורתך".
  2. Rashi on the spot (תהלים קיט קכו) - "ורבותינו דרשו ממנו שעוברין על דברי תורה כדי לעשות סייג וגדר לישראל"
  3. THe Talmud in many places offers this doctrine (see Temura 14b): "רבי אבא בריה דרבי חייא בר אבא א"ר יוחנן: כותבי הלכות כשורף התורה, והלמד מהן – אינו נוטל שכר. דרש ר' יהודה בר נחמני מתורגמניה דריש לקיש: כתוב אחד אומר "כתוב לך את הדברים האלה", וכתוב אחד אומר "כי על פי הדברים האלה", לומר לך, דברים שעל פה – אי אתה רשאי לאומרן בכתב, ושבכתב – אי אתה רשאי לאומרן על פה. ותנא דבי רבי ישמעאל: כתוב לך את הדברים האלה – אלה אתה כותב, אבל אין אתה כותב הלכות! אמרי: דלמא מילתא חדתא שאני דהא רבי יוחנן ור"ל מעייני בסיפרא דאגדתא בשבתא, ודרשי הכי: "עת לעשות לה' הפרו תורתך" (תהלים קיט ) אמרי: מוטב תיעקר תורה, ואל תשתכח תורה מישראל."
  4. That means that occasionally, when fighting Evil, the only way (בדיעבד) to succeed in doing good is to use evil against it. It's like negative times a negative resulting in a positive.
  5. We are very used to it in the Torah or in our society, for example killing a serial killer, or stoning a Shabbos transgressor. Killing or hurting are clear prohibitions, but there's no "Kosher way" of dealing with them otherwise.
  6. A spin-off of this question is very popular on Quora, for example: "How does the merciful G-d kills seemingly innocent people throughout the Torah?"
  7. Examples are so numerous, just to wit: Yaakov marrying two sisters, tribes fooling Yaakov with goat blood, Moses braking the Tablets, Eliyaho on mount Carmel and more. The best examples, in my understanding, would be the emerging of the Moshiach lineage as pictured in Torah: through Lot's daughters, Yehuda & Tamar's, Elimelech going out to Hutz Laaretz, his sons marrying gentiles, Rith's story with Boaz etc. Why, you would ask, the Moshiach can't come the most Kosher way around. He can't. Not in this world.
  8. The examples you've brought, show that the Tzaddikim realized that the mission simply could not be completed the Kosher way. And Hashem completely approved it retrospectively. It does not say we would all prefer not to לכתחילה, but if there's no choice - הפרו תורתך!
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    Your hypothesis is an interesting one. However, I also somewhat agree with mevqesh's question. I think there are parameters to what one can do using עת לעשות לה. I don't think one of the parameters involves cheating or deception. At any rate, I think it's worth a separate MY question and research to understand how עת לעשות לה works and when one may use this. In this scenario, one can even question this concept altogether, as there was no Torah given yet. – DanF Nov 28 '17 at 4:12
  • BTW, all the answers, including yours are good. I'd like to see yours strengthened as you have an interesting angle. I may eventually place a bounty so that I can accept another answer. I'm not always thrilled with SE's one accepted answer policy. – DanF Nov 28 '17 at 4:14
  • Maybe you're right, "commands" is too harsh, I'll change it for "allows". – Al Berko Nov 28 '17 at 23:09
  • @mevaqesh Thank you, I edited and added sources. – Al Berko Nov 29 '17 at 18:59
  • @AlBerko I've never heard of "It is a time to act for Hashem" as an excuse for aveiros as applying to anyone other than tzaddikim. Otherwise, who could know and who could say when he is and is not "acting for Hashem"? (I am not talking about rashaim gemurim here, or deeds in which it is clear that one is not acting for G-d -- just normal people, say, in situations where strong feelings are involved.) – SAH Aug 8 '18 at 7:00

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