One central theme which runs through a number of incidents is that lying, or at least trickery, seem to be involved in the Word. Abraham and Isaac say that their wives are their sisters; Jacob tricks Esau out of his privileges as the first-born; Rebecca and Jacob trick Isaac into giving him the blessings; Joseph’s brothers kidnap and sell him and then lead Jacob to believe that he’s been killed; Leah tricks Jacob into marrying her; Tamar tricks Judah into fathering her children. Why does everything seem so crooked? A corresponding action is performed, but this time, on the side of holiness…

The theme of trickery stems from the first, and perhaps most famous case – that of the serpent tricking Adam and Eve. Had they not sinned, Adam and Eve would have brought the world to perfection and the Messianic Age would have begun right away. Explaining that when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, there was a catastrophic change by which sparks of good and sparks of evil become mixed in virtually every aspect of the world. In order to rectify this act, its effects must be undone. The retrieval and elevation of these sparks is the unifying task which has occupied the world ever since.

Part of the mystery of this rectification is that the manner in which it is carried out must also match the way in which these sparks were spread out in the first place. A corresponding action is performed, but this time, on the side of holiness.

This could perhaps be compared to the cover of a jar: just as it became tightened through being twisted on, the way to remove it is through twisting in the opposite direction.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 39b)1 similarly explains why the prophet Obadiah was chosen to pronounce the downfall of the Edomite kingdom – because he himself was an Edomite convert, and “the handle for the axe to cut the tree comes from the forest itself.”

We find a similar idea when Moses showed Pharaoh that God sent him by turning a stick into a snake. (Ex. 7:10-11) The head sorcerers of Egypt replied, “Are you bringing straw to Ephraim?” (a city known for its grain), i.e. “Are you bringing witchcraft to a place which is full of witchcraft?!” Moses answered that indeed, “You take your vegetables to sell in the place where everyone brings their vegetables.” At first glance, it is difficult to see what exactly is Moses answering; he just seems to repeat their question as his answer! But his answer is that although he and the Egyptian sorcerers superficially seem to be doing the same thing, there is a huge difference between them. Only a discerning mind is able to distinguish them, just as only in a place where everyone sells vegetables can you tell “which is the good vegetable and which is the bad.” “Ephraim” refers to the primordial snake, (since “the earth [in Hebrew, “afar”] is his bread” (Isaiah 65:25) – “afar” from the same root as “Ephraim”), and its abundant produce alludes to the Tree of Knowledge Only in that place and in an almost identical fashion can its darkness be transformed to light. Rabbi Bell