The rabbis of the Talmud declared that children – having them, raising them and how they turn out – are dependent on a degree of mazal, good fortune and luck. In this week’s parsha, where the twins Yaakov and Eisav are described and contrasted, this cryptic statement is apparently relevant and pertinent. Both are products of the same parents, raised in the same home and apparently given the same type of education yet they turn out to be opposite personalities.
In fact, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch sees in this the cause for Eisav’s evil behavior – Eisav who is a completely different personality than Yaakov should not have been given the same education as Yaakov. It was the inability to raise Eisav according to his own tendencies and needs that turned him into the alienated, rebellious and hateful person that he became.
The story of the twin sons of Yitzchak and Rivkah certainly illustrates the uncertainty associated in raising children no matter how pious the parents and how moral the home involved in raising them. It is this element of unplanned and unforeseen mazal that the rabbis of the Talmud are referring to.
This in no way absolves parents of their responsibilities and duties regarding the raising of their children. But, it does point out they have a will of their own and that there are no guarantees as to how they develop and what their beliefs and actions in later life will be.
In the nineteenth century entire generations and communities of Jewish children turned their backs to Torah life and traditional values. It was due, to a certain degree, to the obvious deficiencies present in Jewish life In Europe – poverty, governmental persecution, social discrimination and the apparent backwardness of the then Jewish society. But I feel that the major driving force of this secularization of Jewish society was the zeitgeist – the prevailing spirit of the times that then was dominant in European society and life.
Perhaps one can say that this zeitgeist is itself the mazal that the rabbis spoke of. We are all products of the ideas and times in which we live – we are influenced by everything. Some, like Yaakov, are able to shut out much of the outside world by sitting in the tents of Torah for decades on end. Eisav, who did not have that ability to sit for years in the tents of study, though he certainly had that opportunity, was swept away by the zeitgeist of the Canaanites, of Yishmael and the allure of power and wealth.
Following the zeitgeist never excuses bad and immoral behavior in the eyes of Torah. But it does explain how such alienation and rebellion, hatred and prejudice is instilled into children who were raised by great parents and in solid homes and families. Since zeitgeist can never be completely eliminated from our home environments it behooves us to be aware of its presence and attempt to deal with it wisely and realistically. And for that to happen, we will all require a large helping of undiluted good mazal.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com