Vayeitzei: We Must Speak the Truth

Posted on November 12, 2021 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

Some say it is from this week’s Torah portion that our rabbis derived the custom of wearing a kippah to cover one’s head. “And Jacob went forth from Be’ersheva…” says the opening verse of our parashah, Vayeitzei. Would our father Jacob go out without covering his head? Of course not, said our teachers.

So much of Torah is open to interpretation, and our Sages were very clever in deriving laws and teachings from every jot and tittle. But there are some things in Torah and in life that are black and white, and clear as the light of day.

We are commanded to “do what is good and right,” [1] to “keep far from falsehood,” [2] to “not deal deceitfully with one another,” [3] and to “do justly.”[4] Abraham was chosen by God to “instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of God by doing what is just and right…” [5] Unfortunately, some of Abraham’s children seem not to have gotten the memo.

In this week’s parashah, Jacob falls in love with his cousin Rachel and agrees to serve his uncle Laban for seven years to receive her hand in marriage. But when the blessed day arrives, Jacob discovers that he has been deceived into marrying Laban’s older daughter, Leah. And so, Jacob must work another seven years to have Rachel as his bride, all on account of Laban’s subterfuge.

But more is going on here, for, as we know, there is karma involved in Jacob’s plight. As a young man, Jacob had entrapped his brother, Esau, into forfeiting his birthright, catching him in a moment of weakness and taking advantage of him with guile. Years later, when their aged father, Isaac, was blind and infirm, Jacob came to him disguised as Esau and tricked him into giving him the blessing of the first-born.

These sordid stories are brought to us to serve as a warning. The very foundation of the world is honesty, justice, and truth, as the Psalmist said: “Justice and righteousness are the foundation of God’s throne.” [6] Failure to live up to these values and virtues brings discord and devastation, as history has taught us.

Among the reasons Jerusalem was destroyed, says the Talmud, is that its inhabitants engaged in deceptive and dishonest business practices, including the falsification of weights and measures. As Rava said: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because there were no more trustworthy people there…” as it is stated: ‘Roam about the streets of Jerusalem and see, and search its plazas, if you can find a person who acts justly, who seeks integrity, that I should forgive it.’” (Jeremiah 5:1). [7]

One needn’t have a political bias to acknowledge that in America today the foundations of our society and our democracy are being undermined by pervasive trafficking in lies and falsehoods. Gaining advantage over one’s adversaries has become a blood sport, and the first casualty in the game is truth. The second casualty is justice. And the ultimate consequence will be destruction. As the Mishnah warns us, “The sword comes to the world for the delay of justice, and for the perversion of justice.”[8]

What will save us is a renewed commitment to truth and justice that are blind to bias and self-interest. For any gain achieved through falsehood will be short-lived and its fruits will be bitter. As the Proverbs wisely said: “Truthful speech abides forever, A lying tongue for but a moment.” We must heed the word of the prophet Zachariah, who said, we must “speak the truth to one another, and render true and perfect justice in your gates.”[9]


Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck


[1]  Deuteronomy 12:28
[2]  Exodus 23:7
[3]  Leviticus 19:11
[4]  Micah 6:8
[5]  Genesis 18:19
[6]  Psalm 97:2 and Psalm 89:15
[7]  Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 119b
[8]  Pirkei Avot 5:8
[9]  Zechariah 8:16