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    Warts & all – Vayyetzei

    Jacob & Esau, by James Tissot c.1896

    What was Jacob – sinner or saint?

    His early relationship with his brother reveals him in a less than pleasant light. The way he deceives his father is not particularly admirable. His intentions are for the best, but his actions invite criticism.

    However, the Torah (Gen 25:27) calls him ish tam, a sincere, wholehearted man. God blesses him with the name Israel, and from him all of Jewish history descends.

    One thing becomes clear as the story unfolds. There is a principle of middah k’neged middah – “measure for measure”. Jacob the deceiver becomes the victim of deceit. There is also a principle of mesirat nefesh, privation and deprivation, and this is the punishment that follows Jacob for the rest of his life because of the mistakes of his early years.

    Much more important, however, is the fact that despite his failings, Jacob is a man of spiritual and intellectual quality. Despite his problems with people, he always strives to be at one with God, and God is with him wherever he goes.

    The fact is that it is only God who is perfect, not human beings. The great Biblical figures all make their mistakes, and the Torah does not whitewash them. Adam and Eve, Noah, the patriarchs – the text paints them warts and all.

    The main thing is that a person recognises their mistakes, sincerely atones, and determines to resume their spiritual progress despite the setbacks.

    In this thought there is hope for all of us.

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