By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Spiritual Selection & Survival
Finding The Lost Eisav
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
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
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.