Can One Commit Fraud for the Right Reasons? The Matriarchs’ Corruption Commitment
by Margot Botwinick
Margot (Reinstein) Botwinick, an alumna of Midreshet Lindenbaum (’09) and former madricha (’12), is the co-founder with her husband, Josh, of Mizrachi OU-JLIC IDC Herzliya.
As I write this, the official election results in America have yet to be announced. This article is certainly not the place for political discussion. But what is of interest is how, throughout the campaign, there have been concerns and accusations on both sides of various forms of fraud. While none of us would consider ourselves liars and cheaters…one might wonder: If the election results are so important for the future of America and Israel, would it be okay to “help” achieve a desirable goal, albeit in a fraudulent way? Perhaps it’s not only permitted…. but an obligation to commit fraudulent activity to ensure the right candidate wins?
Rivka’s Questionable Ways
Deception is a theme of the Torah portions that we are now reading and it is done by our greatest role models. While there are many jarring questions surrounding the deception in this week’s Parsha, it’s Rivka’s actions which are most disturbing:
Why doesn’t she tell him about the prophecy she receives? Why does she take advantage of him and his blindness? Why resort to involving her son in deceit? How can she ask her son to lie to his father? What was her emotional plan for when Yitzchak realizes what happened and feels that betrayal from his son? Why would she cause all of this struggle, that would last for generations, seemingly on her own accord? Did she not think that Hashem would not find another way to let the truth come out?
And even if she wants to achieve the “right” result by deceiving her husband and son…is it “right” if she goes about in the wrong way?
A Pattern Amongst Our Matriarchs
Before we attempt to answer these questions, let’s back up and ask them about Sarah too. Sarah is heavily critiqued by Chazal for her actions. The moment Sarah feels that something in the air is not right with Yishmael’s relationship with her son Yitzchak, she sends Hagar and Yishmael out of the house, even though it was she who encouraged Avraham to have a child with Hagar in the first place. Being alone as a woman at that time, without protection or enough food and water or any plan for refuge – why does Sarah act so cruelly? Wasn’t there another way?
And what about Leah and Rachel? Rachel too, according to the Midrash, deceives Yaakov. She teaches Leah the signs in order to trick Yaakov into marrying Leah. While it’s certainly laudable that Rachel’s deceit is to the detriment of her own self interest, still, is this a way to start off a marriage? The tears, the brotherly hate, the jealousy and pain between the sisters and their sons – does that not all stem from this deception?
Is it possible that Sarah, Rivka, Rachel or Leah could have acted differently? Was there not a way for them to ensure Yitzchak and Yaakov futures without resorting to such duplicitous ways?
The Detrimental Results
When we look at the scheme of history, these episodes of deception do not pan out well. The repercussions of the friction between Yitzchak and Yishmael are still felt today, 4,000 years later. We are still at war with our Ishmaelite cousins. The same is true for Yaakov and Eisav. The hatred that was created through Rivka’s plan has echoed throughout the centuries of persecutions from Eisav’s descendants.
Perhaps, as Chazal indeed suggest, our Matriarchs did not act fully properly in these stories. The Torah and Chazal do critique our Matriarchs for not choosing the more honest path. The brothers lie to Yaakov about Yosef’s fate, Rashi says that this was mida k’negged mida, measure for measure, for the deception Yaakov did to his own father. Rash clearly tells us: The hurt and pain need not have happened.
And yet, what made our matriarchs who they are is that they refused to “throw away” their children the moment there was struggle, in the way we see Hagar cast aside Yishmael. The Imahot were dedicated, passionate, committed and took matters of the future of their children and Bnei Yisrael with the utmost seriousness. And with all our greatest leaders, their mothers go to unconventional lengths for their future, like Yocheved and Channah for their children Moshe and Shmuel.
They Were Wrong, But We Can Learn From It.
The results speak for themselves on how the deceptive approach was not the proper way. There must have been another way. But what we can learn from our matriarchs is their complete dedication to fight for their children’s futures. Their intense motivation to continue their family’s legacy may have sometimes taken them too far. Yet that motivation was exactly what made them so crucial in starting our people’s history and ultimately impacting all of humankind.
So, is it okay to do a little cheating behind the scenes? Unequivocally, no. There is always another way.
Yet, we can learn from this a defining trait of our matriarchs: an almost crazed commitment to their children’s future. Without compromising our values, we always have, and must continue, to fiercely fight to ensure the future of our nation and its messages to the world.