Parshat Toldot gives us much to ponder regarding relationships between parents and children. Torah goes out of its way to describe details of the pregnancy, birth and child rearing of Yakov and Esav. It seems that the point of the at-first-frustratingly-barren-yet-ultimately-miraculously-fruitful pregnancy is belabored(!) so as to engage and bring the readers, who themselves have experienced this process, into the complexity of the story. A mother who reads of Rivka’s despair will react more emotionally to the events described. A father who struggled with helplessness of the inability to propagate and then the exultant joy of the miracle of birth is fully invested in the ensuing story.
And what is that story?
Parenting! One child is meek; one a hunter. One child plans (schemes?); one acts impulsively. Ultimately a rift opens up between the two and the parents must attempt to hold on to the family unit to the best of their ability. Torah then presents a verse which troubles the readers since it implies that Rivka and Yitzchak chose sides. ויאהב יצחק את עשו כי ציד בפיו ורבקה אוהבת את יעקב Yitzchak Loved Esav he was a hunter in his mouth; Rivka loved Yakov. Seforno, however will not accept this radical position that each parent loved only one child: ויאהב—גם את עשו He ALSO loved Esav.
In this regard a powerful parenting lesson is being taught here. Both Yitzchak and Rivka realize that one of their children seems to be ‘off the derech’, not adhering to the Abrahamic tradition of kindness, truth, peace (unless provoked). Seforno continues his words about Yitzchak loving Esav—אף על פי שלא היה שלם כיעקב even though he was not ‘complete’ like Yakov.
What are parents to do when their twin sons take divergent paths towards (and away from) God, each other and perhaps the parents themselves? Sacrifice one to save the other? That seems to be the path of Sarah with Yishmael. Invest all energy in one to the exclusion of the other? That seems to be the path taken by Yakov with Yosef. Invest equal measure in both children “we love both of you equally…” Does that really work?
Torah presents a model perhaps planned by Yitzchak and Rivka when they noticed their children pursuing opposing interests. Yitzchak will devote more effort in Esav’s spiritual well-being while Rivka will invest more time in Yakov’s physical stature. “And Yitzchak loved Esav ‘when’ he was using his hunting in (with?) his mouth”.
I once asked a mother whose child was going off the derech, how she deals with her ‘wayward’ son. Her answer? Love him as much as possible. I watched the boy grow up and while he has not maintained an observant lifestyle, he has expressed love to his parents, siblings, friends and his own family.
Yitzchak sees his child slipping away and makes a conscious effort to love him, encourage him and bless him. True, Esav does not follow the tradition of Avraham, yet in the end he does not kill Yakov, he even tries to re-conciliate with Yakov in Parshat Vayishlach (36:7). Ultimately they join together to bury their father Yitzchak.
Parshat Toldot is depressing in the sense that even the greatest Biblical personalities who merit God’s revelation and support, even they have children who do not follow in their ways and as such are confronted with intense parenting challenges. But it is uplifting in the sense that the Torah never presents us with supernatural personalities; only the most natural and human experiences are shown and the steps these heroic individuals take to lead a life of kindness and truth and to raise a next generation in the same vein. Unless the child rejects the normative path, then true parenting emerges and an authentic model of educating our children materializes.