The Purple Sheet
Parshat Vayeitzei– December 2nd & 3rd 2016
Dealing with Dishonesty
But there’s a side to you
That I never knew, never knew.
All the things you’d say
They were never true, never true,
And the games you play
You would always win, always win.
In the course of our lives we meet people with varying degrees of honesty. Some people are incredibly scrupulous and will never tell a lie. Others may bend the truth here and there to spare someone else’s feelings, a white lie we call it – something perfectly legitimate at times. Then there are those who may tell a lie to avoid a particular painful circumstance, justifying the short-term alleviation of pain to avoid dealing with the harsh truth later on. “Wimping out” lies let’s call them. Finally, there are those folks like Laban of this week’s Torah portion who are pathological and chronic liars that will say anything and constantly change the rules of the game to suit themselves.
Laban is the consummate deceiver and he regularly changes the terms of any agreement he enters. He does this when he initially meets Yaakov who is willing to work for his daughter, Rachel’s hand in marriage. Laban surreptitiously replaces Rachel with her sister, Leah on the wedding night. Yaakov labors many years for Laban after his marriage to his daughters but Laban cheats him here as well. Finally, after Yaakov had made Laban lots of money but gained very little for himself, he decides to take matters into his own hands by making a business deal with his father-in-law. But as Yaakov’s wealth increased, Laban and his sons became jealous, thus forcing Yaakov to decide to leave Laban altogether.
So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field, to his flocks. And he said to them, “I see your father’s attitude, that he is not disposed toward me [as he was] yesterday and the day before, but the God of my father was with me. And you know that with all my might I served your father. But your father mocked me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not permit him to harm me.”
Lest you think that this is the result of in-law tensions that have no basis in reality and that Laban’s daughters have a different view of their dad, listen to how Rachel and Leah respond:
And Rachel and Leah replied and said to him, “Do we still have a share or an inheritance in our father’s house? Are we not considered by him as strangers, for he sold us and also consumed our money.
In essence, they wholeheartedly agree that their dad is a lying and cheating creep and that the best thing is to take off and get as far away from him as possible.
The conflict comes to a head when Laban chases after Yaakov, his daughters, the grandchildren and begins to unload on Yaakov. In this exchange the Torah gives us a very important lesson on how to deal with those individuals whose self-deception is so pathological that they have reached the point where they, in earnest, believe the lies they have created.
And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have deceived me, and led away my daughters like prisoners of war? Why have you fled secretly, and concealed from me, and not told me? I would have sent you away with joy and with songs, and with drum and with harp. And you did not allow me to kiss my sons and daughters. Now, you have acted foolishly! I have the power to inflict harm upon you, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Beware of speaking with Jacob either good or bad’. Now (I know that) you have gone away because you really miss and long for your father’s house. Why have you stolen my gods?!
In this rambling speech of multiple messages, Laban makes a number of claims and accusations against Yaakov:
- He says Yaakov deceived him by leaving without informing him.
- He portrays himself as the loving father and grandfather who would have made a grand going-away party for them all.
- He tweaks the heart strings by emotionally claiming that Yaakov is callous in not allowing him to give his family a proper farewell.
- He calls Yaakov a fool.
- He threatens Yaakov with physical harm and admits the only reason he is not taking action is because God has warned him not to. (Wait, how did the loving doting grandfather suddenly transform into the threatening madman?)
- He insults Yaakov by calling him a wuss and momma’s (or papa’s) boy by claiming he left because he misses home.
- He claims Yaakov is a thief by stealing his gods.
Now listen to how the Torah narrates Yaakov’s response to these many claims:
And Jacob replied, and he said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would steal your daughters from me. With whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our brothers, ascertain for yourself what is with me, and take [it] back.” For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.
How does Yaakov react to these many accusations, insults and questions of his integrity, character and motivation? By ignoring most of them and calmly addressing only two issues Laban raises – why he took off without telling him (because I can’t trust you, you would revert to stealing everything away from me as you have up to now) and the claim of theft. Everything else is ignored.
By doing this, Yaakov teaches us a crucial lesson in how to deal with dishonest people – don’t ever let them set the terms of the discussion and disagreement. A liar will come up with endless claims and assertions that have nothing to do with reality, and to address each one is to give them legitimacy which results in being entrapped in their tangled web of perverted views. The most effective way of dealing with a liar’s bogus claims is to completely ignore them.
Lest you worry that the person will persist, rest assured he will not for deep down he knows that they have no substance. Like a puff of smoke, they will disappear into nothingness. This is why the only claim that Laban persists with is the final one of his gods being stolen – because that claim was true, his daughter indeed took them. Regarding everything else, Yaakov does not even bother with and Laban never raises these issues again.
So when faced with the Labans of life, keep in mind that the best way to react is not to. And as suddenly and painfully as these irksome individuals assert themselves in your life, just as quickly they shall be gone, never to be seen again, and they shall be replaced with more meaningful and truthful relationships… with true angels in our lives.
And Laban arose early in the morning and kissed his sons and daughters and blessed them, and Laban went and returned to his place. And Jacob went on his way, and angels of God met him.
Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale
Aish South Florida www.aishfl.com