When Ya’akov receives the news that Yosef is indeed alive, and in fact in a position of authority in Egypt, his reaction is one of incredulity. “His heart went numb, for he did not believe them” (Genesis 45:26). It’s understandable that he might have felt shock, but is his disbelief a function of his inability to wrap his brain around the news, or is it related to the source of the message? After all, the very people who delivered the “news” of Yosef’s death–even providing forensic evidence in the form of a recognizable bloodied tunic–are now the ones changing the story.
The relationship within this patriarchal family has never exactly been based on absolute truth. Ya’akov is no stranger to deception; neither was his mother, Rivkah. Now his sons have a credibility crisis. Is it any wonder no one knows who and what to believe anymore?
Earlier this week, the editor of the Wall Street Journal, Gerard Baker, told Meet the Press that in order to label someone a liar, one must be certain of the moral intent behind the words of untruth. Is this a new definition of a lie/liar? What is Judaism’s take on lying? Is there a time for fudging the truth? We’ll look at the rabbinic reaction to Ya’akov’s disbelief, and explore whether there’s a standard for truth-telling that might fall short of 100% but is still defensible.