Jacob's Character


Dear Rabbi:
When you asked me to enter into a dialogue with you as to the parshah of the week, I agreed with the provisos that I be allowed to ask questions and give my opinions as to various portions as it relates to that week’s parshah. This week’s installment, Toldot, leaves me with many questions and in my opinion there are many contradictions.
Starting with the First Aliyah at Genesis 25:23 we read the following:
“And the Lord said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two kingdoms will separate from your innards, and one kingdom will become mightier than the other kingdom, and the elder will serve the younger.”
What I really find interesting about this paragraph is that G-d is speaking to Rebecca but unless I am mistaken, I do not remember any paragraph where the Almighty ever spoke to Sarah. Maybe that is another dig at Sarah but does this strike you as rather odd?
Again in the First Aliyah I find a tremendous contradiction starting with Genesis 25:27:
”And the youths grew up, and Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents.”
I read an interpretation of this to mean that whereas Esau was a hunter, which is obvious from the text, Jacob was an honest man who frequented the schools of Torah. Where “innocent” becomes “honest” and "dwelling in tents" becomes a person who frequented the schools of Torah, seems to me to something of a stretch to make Jacob the more righteous of the two, but that aside, the remainder of the parshah shows a very different side of Jacob. Before I get into what I mean by his lack of innocence, my immediate question is how does an interpretation of “dwelling in tents” morph into “schools of Torah” when there was no Torah at the time of Jacob? Your answer might be that you have never heard of such a connection, but it exists and leaves me with thoughts of doing whatever one can to make Jacob the “good” one. 
Getting back to Jacob and his alleged “innocence”, explain to me how this coincides with Genesis 25:31 wherein we read:
“And Jacob said, "Sell me as of this day your birthright."
We have not yet read that it was his mother Rebecca that motivated Jacob into doing anything untoward to his brother. This was something the “innocent one” thought of all by himself. If that isn’t a contradiction in terms, what is?
Staying with the First Aliyah, G-d tells Isaac to go to Gerar because of a famine. At Genesis 26:2 we read the following:
“And the Lord appeared to him, and said, "Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land that I will tell you.”
Going back to my recurring question of why certain people are “chosen”, you keep responding to me that Jews question things, which sets them apart from blind adherence and thus no designation as a Jew. Why doesn’t Isaac ask why not Egypt and merely obeys where G-d “will tell you”?
While still in the First Aliyah, I was struck with the following exchange at Genesis 26:5, between the Lord and Isaac, after the Almighty told Isaac that he would bless him:
“Because Abraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My instructions."
What “statutes” was G-d talking about? 
Starting with the last sentence of the Second Aliyah, Genesis 26:12, and carrying over to the first sentence of the Third Aliyah at 26-13 we read the following:
“And Isaac sowed in that land, and he found in that year a hundred fold, and the Lord blessed him.”
“And the man became great, and he grew constantly greater until he had grown very great.”
According to the above, Isaac grows to be very wealthy while living among the Philistines, who eventually grow envious and tell him to leave, but my question revolves around Isaac and the wealth he inherited from Abraham. What happened to what Abraham left him?
I could make this a rather long writing, but let’s skip to the Fifth Aliyah where the following is stated at Genesis 26:34:
“And they were a vexation of the spirit to Isaac and to Rebecca.”
The above is a response to Esau marrying two women from Canaan and their idolatrous ways, but contradiction soon finds its way into the text. In the same parshah, Isaac is now old and cannot see so he calls to his son Esau and says the following at Genesis 27:4:
“And make for me tasty foods as I like, and bring them to me, and I will eat, in order that my soul will bless you before I die."
Why if Isaac is vexed by Esau’s marriages, does he want to give Esau his blessing?
Getting back to Jacob the “innocent” we have a big contradiction in the Fifth Aliyah at Genesis 27:4 where we read the following:
“And Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you have spoken to me. Please rise, sit down and eat of my game, so that your soul will bless me."
Despite not being able to see, Isaac’s sense of hearing leaves doubt in his mind and he again asks at Genesis 27:24:
And he said, "Are you [indeed] my son Esau?" And he said, "I am."
Jacob had his chance to redeem himself but he again lies to his father. I anticipate that you are going to tell me that he was merely following the instructions of his mother, but are these the actions of a righteous man?
I will leave you with the Sixth Aliyah and the following at Genesis 27:35:
And he said, "Your brother came with cunning and took your blessing."
It is Isaac that tells Esau that his brother is “cunning” yet he does not react violently to his youngest son and in fact later blesses Jacob again when Jacob is going to leave and find a wife somewhere other than from the “daughters of Canaan”. I know that you are going to again refer to Rebecca as the driving force that leads Isaac to bless Jacob in his journey, but why is there no rebuke to Jacob in dealing unfairly with his brother Esau and his deception to Isaac?

Dear Mordecai,
In fact, G-d did speak to Sarah. He said,
וַתְּכַחֵ֨שׁ שָׂרָ֧ה ׀ לֵאמֹ֛ר לֹ֥א צָחַ֖קְתִּי כִּ֣י ׀ יָרֵ֑אָה וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ׀ לֹ֖א כִּ֥י צָחָֽקְתְּ׃
"Sarah lied, saying, 'I did not laugh,' for she was frightened. But He replied, 'You did laugh.'”
Rebecca, I believe goes one step further because she seeks the Lord and the Lord responds.
The midrashic tradition seeks to justify and elaborate upon its own rabbinic enterprise. Remember, the task was to move the people forward after the Temple's destruction. Torah study was essential to the continued existence of the Jewish people post-Temple destruction. How tents become yeshivas is a fair question. I think reading the text as presented is the stronest way to read it, but I still am going to challenge your conclusions. Jacob is, without question, the proper inheritor of the legacy of Isaac and Abraham. In this even Christianity and Judaism agree.
The word tam, which is translated as "innocent" can also mean simple, and simple people can be bold. Jacob wanted the birthright, and he asked for it. Why is that wrong?
I do think that our questioning character is elemental to our chosenness. One doesn't have to question everything. One can accept some things as given. Besides, Isaac's distinction is that he is the only patriarch who lives his whole life in the Land. Genesis 26:12, I would wager, is part of the P source. This is clearly the work of the Redactor - perhaps Ezra -  who is slightly uncomfortable with the idea that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not keep the halacha.
I don't know what happened to the wealth that Abraham gave to Isaac, but perhaps the reason Isaac became as "great" (wealthy) as he was was because he inherited. You ask, "Why, if Isaac is vexed by Esau's marriages, does he want to give Esau his blessing?" What a great question!
Isaac loved Esau. He really hoped that the blessing would turn him onto the right path. No way around Jacob deceiving his father, and I can see you don't consider that he was fulling the instruction of his mother a mitigating factor. Jacob is not someone who is excellent He is someone who becomes excellent over time. You seem disappointed that Isaac wasn't angry with Jacob even though he described Jacob's behavior as "cunning." We can't be certain what went down in that household, but clearly Rebecca's will prevailed, as you anticipated I would suggest. And the outcome aligned with what G-d told her. Isaac reconciled himself to the mistake he made in favoring Esau. That's how I understand it.
I think the more interesting question is how a narrative that is so ambiguous about truth and lies can create a culture in which lying is considered a great sin. You're attacking the characters of the Bible from the standpoint of someone in the Jewish tradition who knows that being a tzaddik is our greatest task.
Who needs a rebuke of Jacob from Isaac? Jacob's whole life is a rebuke.

Dear Rabbi:
I know that the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs are not perfect but the defense of Sarah seems to me to be more than what she was. You respond to my stating that the Lord did not speak to Sarah with Genesis 18:15. If you go back to what prceeded the exchange In 18:12-14 G-d was speaking to Abraham about Abraham and Sarah having a child and Sarah overheard the conversation. She laughed when she and Abraham had the conversation and then lied that she did not laugh. "He (the Lord) then comes back and calls Sarah out for her lie. This is hardly a conversation between the Almighty and one of the "righteous".
As to Jacob being the rightful heir, I do not contest this, however, it is not so much for what he has done, which to this point is not very honorable, but because he is one of the "chosen".
You have a distinct advantage over me with the ability to translate the Hebrew into the English, but that being said, "innocent" and "simple" are not really synonymous and if anyone can be described as "simple", Esau more than fits the description if you use the definition as an offensive term meaning having an intellectual capacity that does not permit the performance of higher-level cognitive processes. Under that definition, Jacob is hardly "simple".
I was somewhat amused by your reference to "lying" being a great sin. However, one could argue that other than the 9th Commandment :
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."
there is no general "rule" against "lying" in general. Abraham and Isaac lied about their relationships with their wives as their sisters, but there does not seem to be any great cry of "foul" for their acts.

Certainly, Sarah’s conversation with the Almighty cannot match the conversations Abraham had with Him, but I do think that any communication between G-d and human beings is special – even if what is happening in the exchange is a rebuke! I, too, would be scared if G-d caught me laughing at one of His promises.
I guess what you’re pointing to is that Jacob has done nothing to merit being “chosen.” I will save my fodder for future parshiot. No doubt we will return to this subject as Jacob will be with us for many weeks to come. I think Jacob’s merit is in his ability to endure the consequences of his mistakes, including mistakes that he was roped into – like deceiving his father. He’s not giving lots of money to tzedakah and feeding the homeless – though maybe we could find a Midrash to that effect – but I don’t necessarily see those as the only qualifications for being righteous. What in, your mind, characterizes a righteous person?
I have to admit that you have really got me thinking about this designation of Jacob as tam. Esau may be simple in terms of his cognitive performance, but what always strikes me about Esau is his emotionality. He may even be the first person in the Torah to shed tears!
Our discussion about lying leads me to think about a topic that I haven’t studied a great deal but am familiar with. The philosopher Immanuel Kant posited an absolute prohibition against lying. According to his way of thinking, if you were a German Christian housing a Jew in the late 1930s, early 1940s and the S.S. came to your house, you would have to tell the truth that the Jew was hiding in your home. This is the absurdity of the absolutist position: never lie. If this subject interests you, see here.
I will leave your question about what I consider righteous for a future parshah. I would not even have commented about what you just wrote, however, something you said reminded me about something my father once told me. If I ever write about a book about my father I will elaborate but he once told me that the Germans thought that they were so superior that they could not believe that anyone would lie to them. My father survived somewhat based on a lie told to the Nazis.