The Bible Says What? ‘Jacob was a liar and cheat, but we still revere him’

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The Bible Says What? ‘Jacob was a liar and cheat, but we still revere him’

Rabbi Sandra Kviat takes a controversial topic from Jewish texts and provides a progressive response

Rabbi Sandra Kviat
Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)
Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)

When we meet Jacob in the Torah, he is the supposed golden boy. One of the three patriarchs, the grandson of Abraham, he creates a vast fortune in sheep and returns with four wives and more children than most can remember.

 He is the apple of his mother’s eye and the successor to the blessings given by God to Abraham. But is he someone to emulate?

 He showed no kindness to his starving brother, but twice negotiated/forced his desperate sibling to give up something valuable before sharing his food with him.

 The traditional commentaries focus their contempt on Esau for so willingly giving up his birthright on an impulse. But what about
Jacob, who showed no compassion for his twin. Jacob had everything to gain in getting his brother to hand over the birthright. 

The firstborn son inherited both the leadership of the family and the legal authority of the father, as well as twice the material inheritance (Deut 21.17). The birthright was no small thing. And yet, as soon as Jacob had deceived his own father into giving him the final blessing, he had to flee for his life.

 But we have all been a Jacob – cheating, lying, using half-truths to get our way. Later in the Torah, Jacob memorably dreams of a ladder to heaven. He does not wake up to a new start, but he does wake up with a different awareness, which slowly changes his character, although his wily behaviour continues into his old age. 

That is the point. Jacob is not perfect, he does not attain a perfect start or complete change, and neither will we. Instead, we are reminded that real personal change happens slowly, with small goals and gradual progress.

  •  Rabbi Sandra Kviat serves Crouch End Chavurah

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