People Are Different. Love is the Same.
This week’s Dvar Torah was written by Dahlia Bendavid, Director of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation’s Israel and Overseas Department, lover of Israel, life coach, and mom of two amazing humans.
PHOTO CREDIT HGTV.COM
This week’s Torah portion Toldot (meaning “generations”) is full of drama and betrayal, of parenting do’s and don’ts, of sibling rivalry, and questions of birthright. Essentially it contains a parenting manual of sorts-- we are given examples of what to do and what not to do in parenting.
The portion focuses on the story of Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca. From the time they were in Rebecca’s womb, the Torah tells us they were struggling and fighting. That set the tone for their entire lives.
Jacob was quiet, thoughtful and obedient; Esau was a hunter, outdoorsy and aggressive. The tension between them grew as they got older. Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a pot of red soup, and Jacob disguised himself as his hairy brother to convince his father that he was Esau in order to get his father’s blessing.
Isn’t it interesting that Jacob and Esau were both brought up in the same home, yet turned out to be so different? Any parent likes to believe that they treat all their children equally, and if asked, will say they love their children the same. Yet, Jacob and Esau were so different – a point that is emphasized numerous times.
Bereisheet/Genesis 25:28 tells us: “Isaac favored Esau, because he [Esau] put game in his mouth, but Rebekah favored Jacob.” Clearly each parent favored a different child—so much so that that Rebecca assisted Jacob in deceiving Isaac so that Jacob received his father’s blessing instead of Esau, the firstborn.
When Rebecca was pregnant, she was told by G-d that one child will prevail over the other, that the elder shall serve the younger (Bereisheet/ Genesis 25:23). She was determined that Jacob would be the one to get the blessing from Isaac.
Many child-rearing experts espouse the idea that every child is unique, and instead of treating siblings in the same manner, each child should be treated in a different way, a way suited to that particular child. Thus, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach in child-rearing.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a renowned Orthodox German rabbi who lived in the 1800’s, explained that Isaac and Rebecca should have parented their children better:
"The striking contrast in the grandchildren of Abraham may have been due not so much to a difference in their temperaments as to a mistake in the way they were brought up. No attention was paid to their differences while they were little; both were given the same teaching and educational treatment. Had Isaac and Rebekah studied the nature of Esau and spoken to that nature, who can say how different the history of the ages may have been recorded." [Hirsch Commentary On the Torah, Genesis 25:27]
In modern parenting, the concept of individualization and accommodation for each child’s unique talents means that parents try to treat each child as a unique, individual being. They do what they think is best for their child. If a family has more than one child, parents may put their children in different schools to suit each child’s individual learning style or enroll their children in different afterschool activities. Some children need more encouragement; some need more independence.
It is interesting that Isaac favored Esau when Esau is portrayed as wild and aggressive. Perhaps this is a positive example of the unconditional love that a parent should show for their child. A parent can be critical of a child’s action and may not be happy with their child’s choices in life. However, s/he is still your child. Even when the expectations you have of your child are not met, parents are expected to still love them.
There is a story told about Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, who was asked for guidance by a man who had given his son a good Jewish education in an observant Jewish home. Nevertheless, the son had drifted so far from Judaism that he was not only no longer keeping the commandments, he did not even identify as a Jew! The man asked Rav Kook what to do. Rav Kook inquired: “Did you love him when he was observant?” The father answered: “Of course.” “Well then,” Rav Kook replied, “Now you need to love him even more.” Maybe this is what Isaac did with Esau – with all Esau’s character flaws and differences, Isaac loved him “even more.”
This parasha teaches us that whether we are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or have children in our lives in some other way, it is important to recognize and embrace each child’s individuality, promote their self-expression, appreciate them for who they are, and in circumstances that are difficult, continue to love them unconditionally.