by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz
Truth and Treachery? Israel and Her Enemies – Discerning Between Genuine Peace Seekers and Deceptive Pretenders
In this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Vayeitzei, we learn of the trials and tribulations of Yaakov Avinu. One of the most striking aspects of Yaakov’s life was that he only married at 84 years old, remarkably late compared to his brother Esav, who married at 40. This seemingly unusual delay and extended period of bachelorhood has been the subject of much discussion among Torah scholars.
One explanation offered by the meforshim is that Yitzchak, Yaakov’s father, knew that the most suitable wife for Yaakov would come from the household of Lavan in Charan. However, Lavan had a notorious reputation as a deceiver. Yitzchak was hesitant to expose his son to Lavan’s cunning tricks, and he knew that marrying into that family meant dealing with Lavan. Yitzchak hesitated sending Yaakov there because he was worried that Lavan would take advantage of his son’s naiveté and inexperience.
It was only after Yaakov demonstrated his ability and resourcefulness to handle a רמאי (a deceiver) by acquiring the blessings meant for Esav that Yitzchak gained confidence in his son’s abilities to outmaneuver even a crafty swindler and seasoned רמאי like Lavan.
We can draw a parallel between Yaakov’s experience and the modern-day situation of Israel. Like Yaakov, Israel has too much experience dealing with רמאים, both throughout its history and with its enemies. Throughout its existence, Israel has faced countless enemies who have sought to deceive and destroy it. Today, Israel is engaged in a conflict with Hamas, a terrorist organization that has repeatedly violated ceasefires and agreements.
And despite Israel’s best efforts, it is not always able to outsmart its enemies. Sometimes, Israel is caught off guard by a רמאי and suffers losses as a result.
The pasuk אני שלום וכי אדבר המה למלחמה from Tehillim 120 captures this duality of Israel’s position. The pasuk states, “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war.” This reflects Israel’s desire for peace, but also its awareness of the need to be prepared for war. Israel knows that its enemies cannot be trusted and that they could turn around and wage war at any moment.
R. Azariah Figo, in his commentary Chevel Na’im, asks why the pasuk is not symmetrical, reading “heimah milchama” instead of “heimah l’milchama”. He answers that the meshorer of Tehilim is saying that he is totally for peace, both when he sits for diplomatic discussions and in reality. However, even when he talks to his enemies (וכי אדבר) and they engage in diplomatic discussions and claim to also want peace, he has no idea if they are going to turn around and wage war because they have a mindset for war, even while they talk peace.
As we continue to face the challenges of a hostile world, we should draw inspiration from the story of Yaakov Avinu, striving to live with temimus (integrity) while also being vigilant. May HaShem give us wisdom and strength against enemies who seek to deceive. Amen.