In Parshat Toldot we read the story of Yaakov and Esav. Yaakov—Ish tam yoshev ohalim, the one who is destined to be one of the Avot, father of the Shvatim for which the Jewish people will be named. And then we have Esav—his twin brother, a highly deceptive individual, who prefers to spend his days out and about hunting animals. While we know not all siblings are the same (nor should they be), how can two brothers, identical twins no less, be so different?
Examining the previous generation makes the question even stronger. In the case of Yitzchak and Yishmael, while they both had Avraham as a father, they had different mothers and Sarah made sure to banish Yishmael and Hagar once Yitzchak was born so as to not influence Yitzchak. Growing up in the wilderness, away from the influence and care of an Avraham and Sarah, it is no surprise that Yishmael fulfilled his destiny as a Pereh Adam. But what is Esav’s excuse? He grew up in the same household as Yaakov—sons of Yitzchak Avinu and Rivkah Imeinu. How could it be that one son fully embraces his parents’ beliefs and follows in the path of Hashem while the other outright rejects all for which they stand?
No doubt Yitzchak and Rivkah were the ideal role models, steeped with impeccable middot serving Hashem befitting our patriarchs and matriarchs. Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch suggests that the lesson the Torah is teaching us here is that sometimes that may not be enough. Yitzchak and Rivkah, with all their greatness, did not understand that different children require different approaches. One needs to raise an Esav differently than raising a Yaakov. They failed to recognize that for someone who was to be a hunter —Ish Yodea Tzayid, Ish Sadeh—he needed a different educational and child-rearing model. They needed to figure out how to harness his natural talents, his strength, skills and courage so that he could serve Hashem in the way that was appropriate for him.
Yaakov learned this lesson and applied it to his own parenting. In Parshat VaYechi, when Yaakov blesses each of his children as his death is near, the pasuk concludes that portion —Vayevarech Otam Ish Aher Kvirchato Berach Otam. Yaakov gave each of his sons a blessing that was appropriate to their own abilities—he realized that it is impossible to expect children to be exactly alike and that for each one to achieve greatness, whether it be as a scholar, a fighter or a merchant, they must be educated differently in order to tap into their strengths. This is the precept that is expressed by Shlomo HaMelech in Mishle—Chanoch HaNa’ar Al Pi Darko.
As parents and educators it is incumbent on us to understand our own children and students, to embrace their differences so that we can help them achieve greatness in their own way.
Adina Lederer is the Head of Elementary School Support at Yeshivat Noam and is an ACPI-certified Coach for Parents and Families.
By Adina Lederer