Perfect parents do not always produce perfect children. This week’s parsha is a perfect illustration of this truism of life and family. There apparently was very little that Yitzchak and Rivka could do to reclaim Eisav to their way of life and level of morality. He was, perhaps, incapable of moral improvement the moment he was born.
There existed, and perhaps still exists, a great debate about whether genetic makeup or social and family environment determine a child’s personality and behavior patterns. But no matter how we judge this question, it still is perplexing, if not even unthinkable, that Yitzchak and Rivka parented Eisav and raised him in their holy home.
It is one of the Torah’s prime examples of the power of freedom of choice that children and all human beings possess. Parents naturally berate themselves over the bad behavior of their children. Yet, in my admittedly limited experience, these parents are hardly ever to be blamed for the free- will wickedness of their offspring.
We ascribe too much power to parents in raising children. Of course family and environment are important, but a child’s choices will trump all other factors and circumstances. And thus we have an Eisav emerging from the house and family of Yitzchak and Rivka.
The Torah’s message to us in this matter is direct and blunt – there are no guarantees or perfect successes in raising children. One could say that though Avraham fathered Yishmael, perhaps it was Hagar’s influence that formed him. But what can we say about the house of Yitzchak and Rivka that could produce an Eisav?
The Torah poses for us the unanswerable questions of life that we encounter daily. And it never truly provides us with satisfying answers. Such is the nature of life itself – its mystery, uncertainty and unpredictably. The great question as to why the righteous suffer and the evil person apparently prospers lies at the root of the struggle for belief and faith. And as we read in the book of Iyov, the Lord chooses, so to speak, not to answer that question.
The Torah does not explain to us how an Eisav can arise from the house of Yitzchak and Rivka. Apparently it is satisfied just to notify us that it occurred and, by inference, to teach us that other inexplicable things will occur throughout Jewish and human history.
Eisav, whether genetically or environmentally influenced, was a free agent – as we all are – to choose between good and evil, peace and violence, compassion and cruelty. These choices were his and his alone to make. Somehow, Heaven also must have taken into account the heartbreak of Yitzchak and Rivka over the behavior of Eisav. But that is certainly secondary to the judgment regarding Eisav himself.
There is a tendency in our modern world to try and understand and sympathize with the evil one at the expense of the good and decent victims of that evil. The Torah is not a fan of such misplaced compassion. Rivka makes the painful decision to abandon Eisav and save Yaakov. By so doing she ensures the civilization of the human race.
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