The Parsha in Chesed – Toldot
There is a classic debate as to whether children are the product of nature vs nurture. The dichotomy of Yaakov and Eisav would seem to be a vote for nature being the dominant factor in a child’s development.
Here we have twins, whose dispositions and interests are as different as their physical attributes. They were conceived at the same time, grew in the same womb and were brought up in the very same house. Yet they were “polar opposites”.
Same nurture. Different natures.
Then comes a hint, hidden within a short phrase, that gives a nod to the importance of nurture.
וַתִּהְיֶ֖יןָ מֹ֣רַת ר֑וּחַ לְיִצְחָ֖ק וּלְרִבְקָֽה׃
“And they were a bitterness to Yitzchak and to Rivka”
This pasuk is understood as referring to the idolatrous wives of Eisav. They flaunted their beliefs and problematic behavior, causing much distress to Yitzchak and to Rivka.
Many commentators point out that the order here is counterintuitive. Historically, it is the mother who is more sensitive to the behavior of their child’s spouse. Yet, here, in the parsha, Yitzchak seems to be more perturbed than Rivka by the idols of his daughters-in-law.
Doesn’t this contradict the “laws of nature”?
The answer given is that unlike Yitzchak, raised in the home of Avraham and Sarah, Rivka had been exposed to idolatry and all of its “trimmings”. Although she too was unhappy, Rivka was less sensitive to the affront perpetrated by Eisav’s wives.
Such can be the influence of our surroundings.
Rivka, by all accounts, left her family at a very young age. The amount of exposure to idol worship was minor relative to her lifespan. And yet, those few years were able to desensitize Rivka, if even just a bit, to the behavior of Eisav’s wives.
What a powerful and eye-opening lesson. Despite her inborn righteousness and decades with Yitzchak, there remained within Rivka a remnant of what she was exposed to as a young child.
The experiences that we give our children and that to which we expose them, can, and will, have a lasting effect. Our priorities, our behavior, and the atmosphere in our homes all play a part in who our children will become.
So which is it? Nature or Nurture?
The answer seems to be the synthesis of both.
Every child is born with unique characteristics and qualities and the potential to maximize them. It is the task of the parents to nurture the nature of that child.
But one size doesn’t fit all. In the words of Shlomo Hamelech (Mishlei 22:6)
חנוך לנער על פי דרכו
“Educate the child according to his or her way”
I am certainly not one to question or criticize our patriarchs and matriarchs.
I will let Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch do it for me. His shoulders are much broader than mine.
Rav Hirsch, Zt”L comments on our parsha that Eisav was a result of Yitzchak and Rivka not parenting correctly. While their sons might have been chronological twins, their natures were quite different and required different methods of parenting. The fact that Yitzchak favored Eisav and Rivka Yaakov- did not meet that requirement.
Together, they needed to nurture the very different natures of their sons. Yitzchak and Rivka should have been on the same page regarding the very different pages of Yaakov and Eisav.
As parents it is essential for us to recognize the individuality of each of our children. Every person is born with a nature unique to him or her. Our job is to nurture that nature in the way specific to them.
Round pegs are made for round holes and square pegs are for square ones.
We can try to place the round into the square or vice versa. With enough pushing and force we can eventually get them to fit.At that point however, the peg and the square have lost their shapes and purpose.
Our children are no different.
While it takes time and effort to identify the niche of each or children (and students), that investment will insure a healthy and productive life for them and their future generations.