Judaism and a complete life

There was a person in the Tora who is regarded as being "complete." It is none other than the patriarch Jacob. That seems an odd choice, considering how very human and, seemingly imperfect, he was. After all, he tells the most brazen lie in the entire book of Genesis when he says to his father, "I am Esau, thy firstborn."

We see him taking advantage of his brother, we see him losing his temper with his wife. We see him fighting with the angel, and we see him making the cardinal parenting error, showing favoritism to one particular son.

What's more, his life was one big torment! From the moment he had to run away from his brother, who wanted to kill him, he had troubles. He was fooled by Laban into marrying a woman he did not want, he worked for many years, always protecting himself against being taken advantage of. Later, he spent many years believing his beloved son Joseph was dead. His life ended in exile, in Egypt.

Is that the complete life of a perfect person?

Yes, it is. Judaism does not define completeness and perfection as "success." Our modern definition, which usually includes a nice house, a nice family, some good cars and a membership in the synagogue or church, does not match what Judaism teaches. Those things are all good, but they are not all.

Think about this. Jacob was in love with Rachel. He worked seven years in order to marry her. On the wedding night, Laban, the father-in-law, pulled a switch. He sent his oldest daughter, Leah, to be with Jacob in disguise. How it was that Jacob didn't recognize her, we can talk about some other time! Nonetheless, it happened, and Jacob wasn't very happy in the morning. He found out that he had married the "wrong" woman, Leah, when he really wanted Rachel! He had been tricked, and he had a right to be angry.

And he was, and even said so to his surprise wife. According to the commentaries, he criticized her having pretended to be Rachel in order to get him. But Leah was no fool. These commentaries have her respond to Jacob with a very sharp comment, "And are you Jacob and not Esau?" In other words, you live in a glass house. Don't throw stones. You deceived your father to get something no less important, his legacy and blessing.

What a powerful commentary! To me, the most astounding fact of this story is that Jacob kept Leah as his wife! He had every right to opt out. This had been a false business deal, he had been tricked. Was it reasonable to expect him to remain married to a woman he did not want? And yet, he stayed.

And a good thing he did! Leah became the mother of six of the tribes of Israel. At the end of the day, God's judgment was that this marriage was a great thing.

This is the secret of Jacob's completeness. Jacob is described as having dreamt of a "ladder planted in the earth whose top reaches to the heavens, with angels ascending and descending upon it." I believe those angels represent Jacob himself. There are times in life when he is ascending, doing good works and rising up high. There are also times when he descends, when he makes mistakes and finds himself in trouble. The thing that is crucial to Jacob, however, is that he always remains on that ladder. Jacob accepts the consequences of his actions, and when he feels himself descending the ladder, he always finds the way to turn around and go up again.

Jacob accepted that he was now married to Leah. True, he could've gotten out of it. Nonetheless, he felt that she was the corrective that God sent him. And from his acceptance, the children of Israel were born. The complete person stays on the ladder, accepts what God sends him and never gives up until he reaches that pinnacle.