The boys grew up. Esav became a man who knows hunting, a man of the
field, and Yaakov a wholesome man, dwelling in tents.
Different as they were from the womb, Yaakov and Esav were not prisoners of
their separate natures. They were not forced by their dispositions into
antagonistic roles. Esav’s strengths and talents could have been pressed
into productive and positive service, had they been properly nurtured and
guided. That did not happen. The very real differences between the brothers
did not factor into the way they were educated in their formative years.
Is it proper for us to speculate that Esav’s upbringing by his parents had
not been picture-perfect? Is it conceivable that Yitzchok and Rivka missed
an opportunity? With all the yiras ha-romemus we have for the Avos, we still
will take our cues from Chazal. Despite the enormous appreciation and
respect that they had for the Avos, their critical eye was never blind to
the occasional errors and flaws of the Forefathers. They even call attention
to them when we might have missed them ourselves. In doing so, they did us a
great favor. They turned many episodes in the lives of the Avos into
important lessons for us. It is only because the Avos, in all their
greatness, were not perfect that we are able to learn from them, rather than
dismiss their example as irrelevant to us.
In our verse, Chazal point to a decision that may have led to the behaviors
that shaped Esav’s life. To be sure, Esav was responsible for his
wrongdoing. Yet, had he had other options from which to choose, who knows
how differently he might have developed, and how that could have changed
It is not difficult to describe in simple terms what Hashem wants every Jew
to achieve in the course of his or her lifetime. How we get there is a
different matter. All the multifarious possibilities within the human
personality and all the various situations of time and place make each
person’s odyssey different from that of the next.
It is a mistake to believe that two children, whose natures markedly varied
from each other at an early age, could be given the same kind of training
and education. Yet, the pasuk sums up their early years in one, brief
description of uniformity: “the boys grew up.” We see them sharing the same
classroom, the same curriculum, the same hobbies and schedule. Both were
being prepared for a life of intense study and contemplation.
Yaakov found great satisfaction in this. He thirsted for more knowledge and
thrived on finding it. His inner needs were met, and his strengths were
enhanced by his upbringing.
For Esav, this was poison. He longed for the moment when he could rid
himself of the cumbersome books and hours of regimented restriction. In his
mind, however, the system of his education became synonymous with the entire
lifestyle that produced it. When he became old enough to assert his
independence, he would bolt not only from the classroom, but from all the
values associated with it.
It did not have to be that way. Judaism does not hope to mass-produce a
single product. The covenant Hashem established with Avraham called for the
building of a nation, not a large number of people. Within a nation, there
is a need and a calling for application to all of life’s needs – not just
priests and scholars. The Torah nation would have to include many vocations,
and make use of many virtues and talents. Probing, analytic thought and
refined feeling would be important in a Torah nation – but so would other
characteristics. A community committed to applying Hashem’s truths to myriad
human affairs would need citizens with strength and courage, as well as
Had Yitzchok and Rivka found ways to recognize young Esav’s energy, agility
and courage, and to direct them to activities of positive Torah value, he
could have become a different person. The spirit of Yaakov and the sword of
Esav could have partnered together, rather than become pitted against each
Esav became the hunter. At the core of that vocation is self-control:
patiently waiting for the moment to strike against prey. The hunter seems to
wait peaceably; his real intent remains hidden within. The hunter uses his
cunning to achieve what he wants. Applied selfishly, Esav’s talent set is
devoted to trickery. Applied correctly, it was suited for loftier
accomplishment, like diplomacy. Instead, Esav suffered years of repression
of his needs. He developed an aversion to the restrictions of the indoors,
and waited patiently for the opportunity to become the man of the field. To
the same extent that he had been kept prisoner inside, he now demanded the
absolute freedom of the outdoors, of life away from the expectations of city
While children are best served by different educational experiences, some
areas require sameness. Siblings should be treated to the same displays of
love and closeness from their parents, as well as agreement between parents
on the goals and methods of their development. Some children in a family may
seem not as “good” as others; they are the ones who require the love and
sacrifice of their parents more than others – at times, more desperately
than children who may be ill or have special needs. The Torah tells us,
however, that “Yitzchok loved Esav…and Rivka loved Yaakov.” They did not
present a common, united and equivalent face to the two brothers. This did
not help Esav’s development.
The reactions of the parents are entirely understandable. Each was attracted
to their missing part.
After the powerful experience of the Akeidah, Yitzchok rose from the altar
to an intensely meditative existence. He shunned the crowd and found himself
drawn to the Be’er L’Chai Ro’ee, to the desert spring where he hones the
power of his prayer. Esav’s intoxication with the active life reminded him
of something within himself that he had lost, and wanted to believe could be
put to good use.
Rivka, on the other hand, spent her early years in the house of Besu’el and
Lavan. She had never watched someone grow up in purity and innocence,
constantly improving in his spiritual output, before being thrilled to
observe it happen in her own son.
Each parent, then, was drawn to a different child, and therefore grew apart
from the commonality of goal and method that are so important in raising
children. Their feelings cannot be criticized – but they should have been
better hidden from their children.
Ironically, then, Yaakov and Esav’s upbringing departed from the textbook
formula. Where they required difference – in their education - they received
sameness. Where they should have seen nothing but equivalence – in the
affections displayed by their parents – they experienced difference. We
don’t know why this was. We can, however, learn from the episode about
how to raise our own children.
 Based on the Hirsch Chumash, (Bereishis 25:27)
 See Netziv 24:65 who notes a different anomaly in the relationship
between Yitzchok and Rivka, and assumes that the Hand of Providence was
behind it. It contributed to the strained relationship between Yaakov and
Esav, leading to Yaakov receiving the brachah from his father.