Former Bachur in YU Torah Mitzion Kollel of Chicago
“And her days to give birth were completed; and behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first one emerged ruddy, entirely like a mantle of hair; and they named him Esav. And afterwards, his brother emerged, and his hand was grasping on to the heel of Esav, and he named him Yaakov; and Yitzchak was sixty years old when she gave birth to them. And the youths grew up, and Esav became a man who understood hunting, a man of the field; and Yaakov was a wholesome man, a tent-dweller.” (Breishit 25:24-27)
Our parsha discusses Yaakov and Esav’s birth and recounts what happens to them when they grew older. While Yaakov becomes one of the Avot (Forefathers), Esav is “a man who understood hunting,” who is willing to sell anything for nezid adashim (lentil soup). He simply wants to enjoy the moment and is not concerned about the future.
In his commentary on the Torah, R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch makes an important point which can perhaps alter our approach to Esav.
The Midrash states:
“‘And the youths grew up’ – R’ Levi said, It is comparable to a myrtle and a thistle, which grew one on top of the other. And when they had grown and blossomed, this one yielded its fragrance and this one yielded its thorn. So too, for thirteen years, both of them went to school, and both of them came from school. Thirteen years later, this one went to batei midrashot (houses of study), and this one went to houses of idol worship.” (Breishit Rabah 63:10)
The Midrash notes that they were raised in the same manner – “one on top of the other.” But once they were grown, suddenly, “this one yielded its fragrance and this one yielded its thorn.”
Characteristically, R’ Hirsch does not hesitate to include constructive criticism:
“In no place did Chazal refrain from revealing either the minor or the major weaknesses and errors of our great Avot’s deeds. And specifically in this way, they increased Torah and magnified its lessons for the generations.”
For instance, R’ Hirsch finds fault in the way Yitzchak and Rivka choose to raise their sons:
“The main source of the profound contrast between Avraham’s grandsons did not only lie in their natures, but in their inadequate education as well. As long as they were little, no attention was paid to the latent differences in their temperaments. Both had exactly the same teaching and educational treatment, and a great rule of education – ‘train the youth according to his way’ (Mishlei 22:6) – was forgotten. One must direct the pupil in accordance with his unique future path – the one which suits the traits and tendencies which slumber in the depths of his soul – and thus prepare him for the pure goal, both humanistic and Jewish. In essence, a Jew is charged with one unique mission, but there are numerous and multihued means of accomplishing it – as numerous as man’s own character traits and as varied as their ways of life.”
A fundamental pedagogical principle is “train the youth according to his way.” (Mishlei 22:6) Each child has his own soul and his own nature, and therefore, the same type of education is not suitable for everyone. Part of a parent’s job is to try and identify which type of education is best suited to the individual child’s soul and will enable him to best accomplish our great mission. There is only one objective, but many ways of achieving it.
“One who seats Yaakov and Esav on one school bench and employs identical routines to educate them both for a life of study and meditation will surely ruin one of them. Yaakov will draw from the well of wisdom with increasing desire, while Esav will only wait for the day when he can discard all the old books and with them the whole great purpose of life, which he only recognizes from one point of view and in a manner which is abhorrent to his very nature.”
If Yitzchak and Rivka had not provided their sons with the same education – but had opted to educate them according to their individual natures instead – perhaps Esav would have become “a mighty hunter before Hashem” (Breishit 10:9) rather than simply “a mighty hunter”. Moreover, Esav would not have hated Yaakov, and he could have served as an intriguing complement to Yaakov. Indeed, together, Esav’s sword and Yaakov’s spirit could have been combined in the service of Hashem.
The words “and the youths grew up,” which allude to this missed educational opportunity, suggest that it was a surprise! Suddenly and unexpectedly, after all those years of attending the same school, one goes to the beit midrash, and the other goes to a house of idol worship. Yet, if the differences between the two had been discovered years before and if they had been educated accordingly, who know how Esav could have turned out.
The lesson for us is clear. Every one of us is on shlichut – in different locations, including here in Israel. To a certain extent, we are all involved in chinuch (education) and working on charting a course – if not for others, then certainly for ourselves. And we must remember that chinuch must be adapted to the individual student and that there is no single approach which is appropriate for everyone.
May we successfully achieve this goal, and may we be privileged to educate our students effectively and productively.
This article is based on a shiur by Rav Carmiel Cohen of Maaleh Adumim.