A Midshipman’s Torah: Dealing with Dishonesty

My work with recruits at the Great Lakes Naval Base Recruit Training Center (GLRTC) continues to inspire me to think in new ways. Here, Parashot Toldot and Vayetze, which both address issues of honesty and dishonesty, are examined through the lens of the Navy’s “Midshipman Honor Code.”

seal_of_rtc_great_lakesA Midshipman’s Torah: Dealing with Dishonesty

Last week we learned how Jacob, Isaac’s younger son, followed his mother, Rebecca’s, request to steal away the blessing of his older brother, Esau. Rebecca felt that Jacob was better suited to be the leader of the family. She baked bread and cooked meat for Jacob to take to Isaac, his father, and then she dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothes and wrapped goatskins around Jacob’s arms and neck to cover his smooth skin and take on the texture of Esau’s thick hair.

Jacob was able to trick Isaac and received the blessing of the firstborn. Esau received a lesser blessing. Esau was so angry that he had thoughts of killing Jacob. Rebecca sent Jacob away, to her homeland, to remove him from danger and to seek out a proper bride from her people.

Who is being dishonest in this narrative? Is Rebecca the guilty party because she initiates the deception or is Jacob guilty because he acquiesces to his mother’s plan and perpetrates the lie?

Rebecca felt strongly that Jacob should receive the blessing of leadership. Jacob wanted to honor his mother’s wishes. Both initially had honorable intentions. If your motivation supports a good cause, is it acceptable to lie or deceive? Do the ends justify the means?

navy-core-values  Midshipman Honor Code  

”A Midshipman does not lie, cheat, steal, or engage in any activity which would compromise the integrity and security of his or her conscience, the well-being of the unit, or the values of the United States Navy and Marine Corps.”

Rebecca felt that Jacob was a more responsible leader. In a sense, the “well-being of the unit, and the [spiritual] values” of the family are at stake. Jacob, on the other hand, stole what was intended for another.

  • How do you reconcile this issue?
  • Is it morally possible to deceive or cheat for the good of the group?
  • What do you do if the integrity and security of the individual conscience conflicts with the well-being of the unit?

Jacob returned to Haran, his mother’s birthplace. He lived and worked as a shepherd for his uncle, Laban. In return for seven years of his labor, Jacob asked for Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel, in marriage. Laban was a known swindler. In keeping with his character Laban decided to exchange his older daughter, Leah, for Rachel. In the darkness of the night, Jacob became the victim of deceit. Legend tells us that Rachel was compassionate towards her sister and did not want her to be embarrassed or rejected. Rachel gave Leah all the love words and signs that she shared with Jacob so that Jacob would believe he married Rachel. Of course, Jacob was outraged by the deceit. Laban agreed to give Jacob Rachel’s hand in marriage as well, if Jacob worked for Laban for seven more years.

His uncle, Laban, now cheats Jacob, who cheated his brother out of his blessing. Do you agree that typically “what goes around comes around?”

According to Jewish legend, Rachel was an accomplice in the deceit. Do you feel the same way about her actions as you did about Jacob when he stole the blessing? What do her actions say about the nature of deceit?

Is lying always unethical? When is it acceptable to tell a “white lie.”

Jacob worked for Laban for twenty years. He had twelve sons and one daughter and became wealthy. He decided to go back to his homeland, Canaan. Yet, Jacob was afraid; he had to cross Esau’s territory on the way and he was unsure if Esau still wanted to kill him. Jacob divided his camp, putting the women and children in the back for safety if they were attacked, and also sent expensive gifts to Esau. Expecting the worst, Jacob prepared to face his brother. However, when Esau saw Jacob, he dismounted and embraced, kissed him and wept!

In this case, it seems that “time heals all” (or maybe the expensive gifts might have changed Esau’s mind!). What role does the passage of time play in the process of forgiveness?

What is it about Jacob’s and Esau’s meeting that show us that both brothers have grown spiritually and matured?

One’s military unit is like a family. What happens is a member of your “family” has not been completely honest with you? Can we learn any lessons from Jacob’s or Esau’s behavior?

What would you do if someone took credit for something that you did? Is this a form of dishonesty?

How should dishonest behavior be addressed?  

medal-of-honorMay each of us strive to place our honor of self, family, community and country as high a priority as do the men and women serving in our armed forces.

Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi






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