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Our Parsha this week tells the tale of two brothers, Ya'akov (Jacob) and Eisav (Esau). These brothers were antagonists not only during their lifetimes but also throughout history. Ya'akov became Yisrael whose mission is to enlighten the world, while Eisav became Edom which became Rome, spreading death and misery for almost 2,000 years. One's descendant, Solomon, built a Temple while the other's descendant, Vespasian, destroyed it.
Verse 22 of the Parsha tells us:
"And the children struggled within her, and she said, 'If this is so, why am I like this?' And she went to inquire of Hashem." Rashi informs us that the word Vayitrotzatzu (and they struggled) comes from the root word Ratz, which mean to run. Rivka didn't know that twins were sharing her womb and she was bewildered. Every time she passed a place of idol-worship she felt as if her child was "running" and trying to burst out into the world of idolatry. On the other hand, every time she passed a holy place, again she felt as if her child was "running" trying to burst out into the world of holiness. How could one child display two opposite personalities?
Vataylech Lidrosh Et Hashem (And she went to inquire of Hashem).
The Midrash explains that Rivka traveled to the Academy of Shem and Ever to ask why her child was displaying both good and evil tendencies. They informed her that; "Two nations are in your womb; two peoples will separate from your womb..." (B'rayshit 25:23)
There were two different individuals inside of Rivka; one yearned for idol-worship and evil, the other, for holiness and goodness. What she felt was not one person with two opposite personalities but, two nations, two different peoples in her womb.
This causes us quite a dilemma. If each child displayed completely different affinities, does that then mean, that the path a person takes in life is predetermined? But the Talmud in Sanhedrin 91 teaches us that the Yetzer Hara (the evil inclination) begins to exert its influence only after birth. If so, how could Ya'akov and Eisav have defined personalities while still fetuses? In order to properly understand this Parsha, one must understand the mechanics of personality development.
Every person is born with his or her own personality; some are naturally kind, others hostile, some may be generous and others miserly. Little toddlers display qualities and grow up to display the same traits in adulthood. Most of us, from early childhood through adulthood, try to refine and hone these inherent traits.
Verse 27 gives us the key to this dilemma.
"And the boys grew up, Eisav became a trapper, a man of the fields; Ya'akov was a wholesome man, a dweller of tents." Rashi again brings a Midrash (B'rayshit Rabbah 63:10) that teaches us; "That as long as the children were young their behavior was indistinguishable from each other and no one could discern what their true natures were. But when they turned thirteen years old, one set out for study halls of Torah and the other for idolatry."
Rabbi Azriel Tauber comments in his book "As In Heaven, So On Earth (page 133) that according to Rashi, there was a fundamental flaw in the education of Ya'akov and Eisav. When they were youngsters, not enough attention was paid to their differences, they were dealt with similarly, but they should have been dealt with individually. The cornerstone of Jewish education is treating each child as an individual. "Educate the child according to his way says Proverbs (24:6)." According to Rashi, Ya'akov and Eisav were not educated properly! He notes that if Yitzchak and Rivka made this mistake, each of us can easily make it too. That is the Torah's purpose in teaching it to us; so that we can avoid this common pitfall.
So how could this mistake have come about? Eisav's early indiscretions were attributed to childishness. His indiscretions weren't dealt with properly which led to his "trapping" character. We must recognize that children are born with certain natural traits, and those must be controlled, channeled and prioritized. A child who displays generosity must not be allowed to give away everything, but must be trained to know how and when to be generous. Likewise a child who is an angry child, must be taught to control and channel that anger for his own good, and be taught that there are situations that demand anger and when properly applied, anger is not only justifiable, it is virtuous.
Eisav the outdoors man, displayed a yearning for physical gratification (which in its most exaggerated form is idol worship). Ya'akov, displayed a yearning for wholesomeness, for goodness and holiness. Both could have become men of impeccable character; Ya'akov for the perfection of his inner-self, Eisav for the outer. Instead, according to Rashi, the lack of individual attention that Eisav received in his formative years, caused not only his downfall, but set in motion a brotherly conflict that continues until this day.
I once heard Rabbi Mendel Kessin ask; "Did you ever wonder why there were four matriarchs and only three patriarchs? Eisav could have and should have been the fourth patriarch." (We will discuss this in greater depth when we deal with Yosef in Egypt.) Eisav is truly a tragic figure in Jewish history, he could have been so great.
Whether we have small children to guide, or are attempting to be M'takayn (to rectify) ourselves, we must always practice the refining of character traits. To not do so, is to become Eisav, the "trapper" who stressed the outer man, always living for the gratifications of the moment. To do so, is to try to become like Ya'akov the "dweller of tents," who looked inside himself and rectified what he could, and even sought the help of experts (Shem and Ever) to help him in areas that he was unable to refine alone.
Let us always keep the example of Ya'akov our Patriarch as our guiding light and work to become the very best that we can be.