Spiritual Selection & Survival
The Torah presents us with numerous opportunities for extracting valuable lessons in all areas of life and human endeavor. Often, these lessons can be gleaned through the questioning and analysis of specific details in a story. For example, the use of twins. This week’s Parsha begins the story of Yakov and Eisav and the differences between them that would alter world destiny.
Why did they have to be twins? Why couldn’t a similar story line have been formulated with the same basic outcome? Rivkahh could have had two separate pregnancies with the exact concerns as she had when having twins. In the first pregnancy the baby she was carrying would have responded in a manner that disturbed her, motivating her to seek out council and advice from the Prophet. Likewise, in the second pregnancy, the unborn child’s behavior would have motivated her to seek out similar council from the Prophet.
The prophecies as well could have been the same as they are in our Parsha. In each instance Rivkah could have been informed that the child would one day be a great nation and that he would be in some kind of conflict with his brother. Each child could have developed into the same kind of person that they are in our Parsha. Eisav, the oldest could have still been the hunter, and Yakov would have been the scholar.
The subsequent events could have remained the same with Yakov purchasing the birthright from his older brother, and eventually conspiring with Rivkah to receive Yitzchak’s blessings. Why then did the Torah choose the format of twins, rather than singles, for the birth of Yakov and Eisav?
There are many different lessons that can be extracted from the “twin factor” in the story of Yakov and Eisav, but I would like to develop the theme of education. Twins present a unique educational challenge for their parents. On the one hand, all siblings are nurtured in the same environment reflecting a set of standard family and social values. Therefore, parents assume that each child will learn to accept and embrace the stated and unstated expectations of their environment.
Yet, parents are also responsible for training each child to recognize their individual talents and help them appreciate that individuality. The tendency is to raise each twin in an almost identical fashion that masks each child’s inherent uniqueness. Same room, same clothes, same school, same homework, same rewards, same punishments, same motivators, same friends, same everything. Yet, each child is a unique human being deserving of personal training and attention. It is difficult enough for parents of non-twins to tailor their approach toward each of their children, how much more so hen it come to twins!
On the verse, “When the lads grew up…” (25:27) Rav Hirsch explains the following. “Our sages never hesitate to point out to us the errors and shortcomings, both great and small, of our ancestors, thereby making their life stories all the more instructive to us… The sharp contrast between the twin grandsons of Avraham may have originated not merely in their natural tendencies but may have been caused also by mistakes in their upbringing. As long as they were little, no attention was given to the latent differences between them. Both were given the same upbringing and education. The basic tenet of education, “Train each child in accordance with his own way, ” (Mishlei 22:6), that each child should be educated, both as a man and as a Jew. In accordance with the tendencies latent within him and in accordance with the individuality and will result from these tendencies, was forgotten. The great task of the Jew is simple and straightforward as regards its basic content, but the modes of its fulfillment are as varied and complex as the difference in individuality and the diversity of life that results from these differences”.
The use of twins in the story of Yakov and Eisav magnifies the educational concerns that we confront in raising our children. It is easier for us to treat each of our children the same way; yet, we must never loose sight of their individuality. All children are not created equal. From the very start the Torah goes out of its way to highlight the differences between Yakov and Eisav. Yet, Yitzchak and Rivkah seem to have missed it.
Who knows what would have been if they had raised Eisav differently. Clearly Eisav was a rebel. He was not content to sit at the feet of his father and grandfather and study the ways of G-d. He was a hunter! His passion was for the outdoors! He couldn’t be cooped up in a classroom eight hours a day with his nose to the books. That was great for Yakov, the natural scholar, but not for Eisav. Eisav needed to be shown that his restless energy and curiosity were equally valuable in serving G-d and society. He needed permission to explore, to question, and to make mistakes. He needed to have been shown the manner in which he and Yakov could have worked together in developing the Jewish people. Yet, as Yakov’s twin, Yitzchak and Rivkah missed out on the opportunity.
The question we must ask ourselves is, how many “Eisav opportunities” are we missing out on? How many of our children have already been typecast into a rebel’s role that ignores their unique abilities and potential contributions, just because they don’t fit the mold we have cast for them? For the most part, our educational system does not provide for individuality. It is a limited system with rigid norms and expectations that do not take into account, “Train each child in accordance with his own ways.”
As an educator, I recognize that we all work within constraints of time and finances. However, each child is precious and it is our responsibility to help him realize his potential. As a community, our collective talent can provide more varied and exciting options than are offered in the conventional setting of school and home. Every faction of the community can help.
Senior citizens often have the time, patience, and life experience to befriend and help a child. Parents can form support groups and share each other’s challenges and practical solutions. Peer counseling relationships are extremely effective in motivating youth to do what is in their own best interest. The opportunities are only limited by our imagination and determination. It only remains for us to harness the talent and create the opportunities each and every of our children deserve.
There is another critical factor in the education of our children that we can glean from the story of Eisav and Yakov. The “time factor” is a primary consideration in the formative years of a young adult, and the teenage years may be the most critical. The profoundly changing physiology of the teenager causes a degree of sensitivity and vulnerability that bares the very soul. In such a vulnerable state, the child can be heavily influenced, for good or for bad.
This week’s Parsha records the sale of Eisav’s birthright to Yakov. This was the defining moment in Eisav’s life that revealed the degree of his disenfranchisement from the teachings of Yitzchak and Avraham. At such a young age Eisav was already set in his ways. His actions would have irrevocable consequences and he would be held fully responsible for them. Never again would Eisav be a partner in the formation of the Jewish people! There wouldn’t be a second chance. Repentance would not help. Intervention would not help. Eisav’s actions were final just as Yakov’s actions were final. Together, their independent decisions had forged a new and not necessarily better reality and destiny!
Granted, those were special times and the players were special people, but the lesson is still relevant. The teenage years are profoundly important, and we must do everything within our power to empower our children to be responsible and to take responsibility, before its too late.
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.