“What goes around comes around.”
It is a phrase we all have heard. This week our patriarch Jacob has this experience. What he did to others is now foisted upon him. In last week’s parasha, Toledot, Jacob deceives his father by dressing as his brother Esau to receive the birthright and blessing of Isaac. With that blessing Jacob inherits the mantel of leadership of the covenant.
But in this week’s portion, Vayetze, Jacob is the one deceived.
When Esau finds out what Jacob has done he is filled with rage and threatens to kill his brother. Jacob flees to the home of his uncle Laban.
While working for his uncle (his mother Rebekkah’s brother) Jacob falls in love with Laban’s younger daughter Rachel. He agrees to work seven years in his uncle’s employ to earn the right to marry Rachel. On the wedding night Laban switches daughters substituting his elder daughter, Leah for Rachel. Jacob is now deceived as was his father, Isaac. When he discovered that he had been with Leah on his wedding night and not Rachel, he agrees to work an additional seven years for Rachel.
While this might appear to be a story of great love and devotion of Jacob to earn the hand of Rachel (and it is) it is also touching on this idea of what goes around comes around.
The one who deceived his father is now deceived and Jacob learns a valuable lesson this week. He doesn’t like the tricks and deception. And he learns it has life long consequences.
When looking closely at both stories—last week’s and this week’s Torah portion—one has to ask the inevitable question: Where they both really deceived?
The rabbis debate this. Even though Isaac was blind he alludes to the fact that he recognizes Jacob’s voice even under the hairy arms that feels like Esau. And what about Jacob on his wedding night? Was he really deceived? Leah was brought to the wedding chamber and where was Jacob? Did he not know his beloved’s voice or body?
These questions in our portion help frame our questions and teach us a lesson. We are deceived only when we want to be. The Torah through its stories is teaching us to ask questions and demand answers; to not accept the status quo. It is showing us that we can look deeper than the surface to find the future.
But Jacob in our Torah portion learns quickly and well. He honors that he married Leah and quickly makes an additional deal for the one he loves, Rachel. He waits until the end of the wedding week of celebration honoring Leah being sensitive to her dignity. And then takes Rachel for his wife knowing he will work an additional seven years for the privilege.
Jacob thus learns important lessons and works through the trauma he caused in the universal fabric. And in the end that is what our Torah tries to teach each of us: How to live with the complications of every day that we create and that we try to undo. Jacob’s story this week teaches just that.