First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/vayetze-mirror-of-guilt/]
Netziv Genesis: Vayetze
Mirror of Guilt
“The vices we scoff at in others, laugh at us within ourselves.” -Thomas Edward Brown
Jacob works for his greedy, deceptive father-in-law, Lavan, for twenty years. Jacob is the perfect worker. He cares for and guards Lavan’s livestock with incredible attention and responsibility. Lavan becomes a wealthy, powerful man due to Jacob’s hard work. Jacob has a spotless record. Not one of the animals are hurt, attacked or stolen during Jacob’s long years of service. It was an unheard of achievement of diligence, self-sacrifice and productivity. He didn’t take any sick days or vacation and he worked the night shift as well. It’s not clear when he slept. Jacob was probably the employee of the century.
It is therefore highly surprising that when Jacob and family, under God’s orders, escape from Lavan, Lavan chases them and accuses Jacob of no less than robbery.
How can Lavan suspect his star employee, the man who built his empire, of petty theft? The Netziv on Genesis 31:41 explains that Lavan is exhibiting a common human trait. Lavan is accusing a completely blameless person of a trait that he himself possesses. The Netziv states that it is normal for people who possess a certain characteristic to assume other people have the same one. A thief will assume that others are thieves as well.
Therefore, when one person accuses or degrades someone else of some failing, we don’t need to look too far as to why the accuser would be familiar with such failings.
May we be careful of who we accuse and what we accuse them of. It may reveal more than what would be desirable.
To the Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838-1933) also known as the Chofetz Chaim, for his groundbreaking book of the same name on the Jewish laws of watching what we say.