What’s the relationship between truth and lies? Are they polar opposites, or are they more closely comparable?
There’s a fascinating explanation for a subtle nuance in the story of the births of Esav and Ya’akov, those ever-struggling twins. The Torah records their birth and immediate naming as follows: “The first one emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they named–vayikreu–him Esau. The his brother emerged, holding on too the heel of Esau; so they named–vayikra–him Jacob” (Genesis 25:25-26a). Paying close attention to the Hebrew, we notice that it seems that more than person gave Esav his name, whereas Ya’akov was named by just one person. How exactly are we to understand that difference?
The Degel Mahane Efraim, a Hasidic commentary written by one of the grandsons of the Ba’al Shem Tov, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Efraim, explained it this way. Esav and Ya’akov represent two distinct qualities. Esav represents falsehood, while Ya’akov symbolizes truth. Since many people are drawn to lies, multiple people name Esav. On the other hand, the truth is attractive to only the most rare individuals, so Ya’akov gets his name from a solitary person.
This seems a gross overstatement of the attractiveness of lies. Is falsehood so much more appealing than truth? Is the Degel Mahane Efraim a cynic? Or can we wonder if he is on to something?
Rabbi Marc Angel writes, “Wise people know that truth and falsehood, like Jacob and Esau, are twins. But they also know that they need to work hard and think clearly to distinguish between the two. Most people are inclined to believe whatever they want to believe, whatever is convenient to believe, whatever is politically correct to believe, whatever they are told to believe. Few people are inclined to cut through the omnipresent static of falsehood, especially when exertion for truth can exact a heavy personal toll.” On Shabbat morning, we’ll address two lies that inflict pain on us as a people, and while they’re disguised as truth, we must fight the modern-day Esav to expose it for what is truly is.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise