The Sages relate that each one of the Patriarchs personified a specific character trait. Avraham personified chessed (kindness), Yitzchak personified gevurah (strength), and Yaakov personified emes (truth). One can easily understand how Avraham epitomized kindness, for the Torah relates how he graciously took care of guests even in his old age and even when he was in pain from his circumcision. The fact that Yitzchak is regarded as the epitome of strength is equally understandable, for it must have taken incredible strength to stick out his own neck to be slaughtered for Hashem (which he did by Akeidas Yitzchak). However, in what way did Yaakov epitomize truth? Where does the Torah or the Sages ever relate an extraordinary act of truth that was performed by him? This question becomes even stronger when one considers the fact that Yaakov, albeit justifiably, had to "steal" the brachos from Eisav and defend himself from Lavan with "trickery". Of course he was an honest man, but is there any episode whatsoever where Yaakov displayed an exceptional level of truth and integrity that earned him this title of "the epitome of truth"?

R' Frand quotes R' Shimshon Pincus who answers as follows: Yaakov had the hardest life out of all the Patriarchs. When he received the brachos from Yitzchak he had to flee for over 34 years from his enraged brother who wanted to kill him. He was forced to live for 20 years with Lavan who took advantage of him in every way imaginable and even went so far as to switch Yaakov's intended wife on his very wedding day. Additionally, consider the fact that his daughter was taken and violated and that he believed for over 21 years that his favorite son, Yosef, had been killed. At some point along the way most people in his situation would have been tempted to throw in the towel, say "why do I need all of these struggles?" and give up on what they know is the right thing to do.

The Midrash takes Yaakov's travails a dramatic step farther. It explains that Yaakov knew through prophecy that he was destined to father the 12 Shevatim (tribes). He also knew that if any one of his 12 children would pass away, it was indicative that he had failed in this role and that he was going to go to Gehenom - no matter what mitzvos he performed. For those 22 years that Yaakov thought that Yosef had died he presumed that he was doomed and destined for that fate *!

What might an ordinary person do if he knew that no matter what he did he was going to Gehenom regardless? The Gemara in Chagiga (15a) explains what the infamous Acher did when he was under the impression that he was going to have this destiny; he said "if so, I might as well enjoy this world" and went on to transgress terrible sins!

The reason why Yaakov Avinu epitomizes truth is because despite his great suffering and despite being under the impression that no matter what he did he would still go to Gehenom, he still remained the same exact Yaakov Avinu. He continued to perform all of the mitzvos with fervor, didn't skimp on even the smallest detail of serving his Creator, and loved Hashem as passionately as ever before. It was this integrity to live his life in accordance with what he knew was right and true - recognizing the Creator of the world and meticulously fulfilling His every instruction because that is the right thing to do - that earned him the title "the man of truth".

Living Inspired

There are many different factors that motivate a Jew to perform mitzvos. Let us learn from Yaakov's example that the optimal intention which we should all strive towards when serving Hashem is to serve Him because He is the King of the world, because all of His instructions are paramount and because it's the proper way to live. There is a famous dictum that "ma'aseh avos siman labanim" (the actions of our forefathers guide the children). Yaakov's incredible integrity and his amazing intentions when serving Hashem have been infused within our national DNA and therefore, on our own level and through practice, we all have the ability to follow in his example. If we learn to perform mitzvos solely because they are the right thing to do then even the most difficult of times will not deter us in our service of Hashem. Additionally, if we work on performing our Judaism solely because it is the right way to live, our lives will take on a deeper level of satisfaction and sense of meaning and purpose.

Gut Shabbos
* - מדרש תנחומא פרשת ויגש ט׳.