How could Yitzchak, who was such a tzadik, have raised someone to be as evil as Esav? To make this question even more striking, how did Yitzchak do this while simultaneously raising Ya’akov to be a tzadik like him?
In order to answer these questions, we must try to comprehend one of the most difficult parenting situations of all time, which happens to arise in Parshat Toldot: raising Ya’akov and Esav together in one home. One can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Yitzchak and Rivka to raise two individuals who were so completely different from one another. It must have been quite an ordeal to maintain a sense of tranquility in their home, and even more so, to educate and prepare each child properly for his future. Yet the Torah text itself does not seem to indicate the ways in which Yitzchak and Rivka chose to raise their twins.
The Midrash Tanchuma lends us some insight regarding the patriarchal couple’s child-rearing methods. The midrash claims that while growing up, Yitzchak and Rivka didn’t view Ya’akov and Esav as separate individuals, but as a set of twins. They both went to school together, they both came home together. In fact, no one differentiated one from the other for the first 15 years of their lives. Only when they got older was it perceived that Esav had become a hunting man of the field and Ya’akov a learned man of the tent.
Rav Hirsch explains based on this midrash that the differences between Ya’akov and Esav weren’t due to their differences in nature as much as they were due to their parents’ ignorance thereof. Despite their opposite personalities, they were both educated in the same exact way in the Beit Midrash; while Ya’akov thrived on this pedagogical method, Esav was suffocated by it and couldn’t wait to throw its yoke off his back. In fact, Rav Hirsch claims, Esav learned the art of trickery necessary for hunting specifically through his being forced to pretend to be happy while sitting and learning inside.
In this way, continues Rav Hirsch, the famous parenting dictum of “Chanoch l’na’ar al pi darko,” to educate a child according to his way, was completely forgotten.
To understand Rav Hirsch’s statement, we have to comprehend exactly what this dictum, taught to us by Shlomo in Mishlei (22:6), really means. What is a child’s “derech”? What exactly characterizes a child’s “way”? Metzudat David believes that a child’s derech refers to his or her intellectual capacity, meaning that one should educate and guide a child according to his academic capabilities.
The Gr”a, however, interprets a child’s derech slightly differently, not as referring to a child’s intellect, but to his innate character. He explains that it is impossible for someone to change the nature with which he was born. If someone was born with a personality of tzedek, he will become a tzadik. If someone was born with an evil nature, then he has free will to choose how he wants to channel this nature: to become a tzadik, a rasha, or a beinoni. He quotes the famous Gemara in Shabbos that states that a man with a propensity for spilling blood will do so, but whether he’ll do it as a mohel (tzadik), as a shochet (beinoni), or as a robber (rasha), is his choice.
According to the Gr”a, when Shlomo says “Chanoch l’na’ar al pi darko,” he is referring to educating a child according to his internal nature. If one follows this dictum, his child won’t stray from the Torah even when he gets older. But if one does try to steer his child away from his nature, even though he’ll listen to his parent now out of fear, he’ll stray from his teachings as soon as the parent no longer wields any influence over him, because his nature can’t change.
Rav Hirsch claims that had Yitzchak and Rivka realized this, they could have educated Esav in a way that would have channeled his strength toward being a “gibor lifnei Hashem.” In
other words, Esav could have been the sword working alongside Ya’akov’s spirit, instead of wielding its force against it.
Thankfully, however, Ya’akov himself learned from his parent’s mistake in this area. As evidenced by his blessings to each of his children at the end of his life, Ya’akov was able to focus on each shevet’s individuality. He discerned their unique strenths and distinctive potentials, and made them aware of these things as well, so that they could each serve Hashem in the best way possible.
As parents and teachers, it is our responsibility and even obligation, according to the author of the Alei Shur, to figure out what each of our children’s/students’ nature is, so that we will know how to educate them properly.
As children and students, it is our responsibility to introspect and figure out the uniqueness of our own natures, so that we can reach our highest potentials.
Have a great Shabbos!