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The Game of Bait and Switch

By Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum

It seems rather strange that instead of sending Moshe to Pharaoh and asking him to liberate the Jews, Hashem told Moshe to demand that Pharaoh allow the Jews to go on a three-day journey into the desert so that they can worship G-d. Pharaoh correctly assumed that Moshe is just playing the game of bait and switch and that this is just a pretext for the Jews to escape and therefore wouldn't allow them to leave.

Yet, all this seems rather strange and raises some difficult questions. Why did Hashem tell Moshe that he ask for just a short three day respite when Hashem’s true intention was to take the Jews out of Egypt for good? Why didn’t Hashem tell Moshe to just tell Pharaoh the full truth and demand that he “let my people go”? Hashem certainly doesn’t have to play the “bait and switch” game with Pharaoh. Why resort to a lie when He could go with the truth?

We also find that when the Jews left Egypt, Hashem told Moshe to tell the Jews to borrow gold and silver from the Egyptians. Why fool them and not go with the truth? They owed it to them for all the work they had done for them. Why mislead them with false pretenses when it was coming to them and they would be forced to give it to them in any case?

Once again we find the very same problem when Yaakov deceived Yitzchok into giving him the blessings. Chazal tell us that Rivka received a prophecy telling her that Yaakov was to receive the blessings and not Esav. Then why didn’t she just tell this to Yitzchok instead of having Yaakov receive the blessings through deception? After all, Yaakov is considered the man of truth so why did G-d want him to receive the blessings through deceit?

Perhaps the answer to these three difficult questions can be found in the Gemarah in Mesechta Sota as well as in Rashi Parshas Yisro (18:12). The Gemorah explains that “One is cooked in the very same kettle in which one cooked.” This means that Hashem always punishes people “Midah k’neged middah.” Someone who defrauds others will himself be punished by being defrauded. The punishment always matches the crime.

Pharaoh tried to deceive and fool the Jews into working for him for pay, but then didn’t pay them. Therefore he had to be given a taste of his own medicine and lose his money through being fooled as well. Also by fooling him and telling him that the Jews would return after a three day journey Pharaoh chased after them and later was drowned in the same manner in which he had drowned the Jewish children. He was treated in the same way he treated others.

Esav, too, led a life of deceit and fraud, always trying to fool and deceive everyone, including his own father Yitzchak. He constantly used his glib and deceitful tongue, as well as his many disguises to fool others. Therefore he had to be treated in the very same manner. He lost the blessings through the use of his own methods of trickery and chicanery that he had been using on others. When Yaakov’s father asked him who he was, he replied in the same way Esav always did by saying “It is I ( who brings you the food,) and “Esav is your firstborn.” This was the exact language his brother had used to fool his father throughout his life. He used words that could be explained in different ways.

Hashem could have spoken to Yitzchok personally and told him to give the blessings to Yaakov instead of Esav. By Hashem not revealing this information to him but rather to Rivka, she understood at once that it wasn’t meant for her to tell him and that Yaakov should receive the blessing by outsmarting his brother in the same way his brother had done to others his entire life. This is why she did not to mention it to Yitzchak.

The lesson is simple. Those who think that they have succeeded in fooling or defrauding others will eventually be given a taste of their own medicine and be fooled themselves. The way we treat others is the way we too will be treated.

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