Parshat Toldot: Two Nations are inside you

This week’s parsha seems to bring us, once again, a lot of family drama. Parents with favourites, twins who are very different, one twin dressing up as the other twin to receive the blessings their father had promised to the other twin, the other twin threatening to kill the first twin when he finds out what’s happened. So let’s take a closer look.

The pasuk tells us that “Yitzchak loved Eisav because he hunted game but Rivka loved Yaakov” (Bereishit, 25:28). The Sforno on this verse comments that Yitzchak loved both of his sons. So why does the pasuk emphasise his love for Eisav? The sefer Siftei Cohen offers an explanation. Yitzchak loved Eisav because he hunted game. Rashi reinterprets the pasuk based on the Midrash, explaining that Eisav would entrap and deceive Yitzchak with his words (Rashi, Bereishit 25:28). The Siftei Cohen suggests perhaps the “he” doing the trapping in this pasuk was not Eisav but Yitzchak. Yitzchak was not ignorant of his son’s behaviour – which, according to Rashi, included murder (Rashi, Bereishit 25:29). It was precisely because of this that Yitzchak showed Eisav greater love, in order to persuade him to leave his evil ways.

In his behaviour, Yitzchak was imitating his own father (Yitzchak spends a lot of this parsha doing exactly as Avraham did). Avraham also had two sons. One of Avraham’s sons also was a hunter (Bereishit, 21:20). One of Avraham’s sons also committed murder (Rashi, Bereishit, 21:9). But Avraham still loved this son. He was resistant to sending Yishmael away (Bereishit, 21:11). When Yishmael lived somewhere else, Avraham visited his son and gave him advice about his household (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer, 30:6). Despite Yishmael’s actions, Avraham loved his son – to the extent that when G-d told Avraham he had to offer up the son he loved, Avraham was initially unsure if it was Yishmael or Yitzchak (Rashi, Bereishit, 22:2). The effect of this love on Yishmael should not be understated. When Avraham dies and is buried, the pasuk says “Yitzchak and Yishmael” (Bereishit, 25:9) buried him together. Rashi comments on this pasuk that Yishmael had repented and was willing to yield to the precedence of Yitzchak and be mentioned second even though he was older. Avraham’s love influenced Yishmael, giving him the courage to do teshuva (Rashi, Bereishit 21:17). Such is the power of love. Such is what Yitzchak hoped to achieve with Eisav.

Maybe slightly ironically (in light of Rav Hirsch’s explanation of Bereishit, 25:27) this is an example of the principle “Chanoch LeNa’ar al pi darko” – “educate a child according to this ways” (Mishlei, 22:6). Yitzchak understood Eisav’s character and hoped that, with some extra love and encouragement, he could be persuaded to do teshuva – as had happened with Yishmael. Yaakov, on the other hand, was intrinsically an “ish tam” (Bereishit, 25:27), one who sat and learnt Torah (Rashi, Bereishit, 25:27). He had different needs to Eisav. Yitzchak and Rivka, realising how different their children were, treated them differently. These twins were to become “two nations” (Bereishit, 25:23), two completely different entities, two completely different personalities. They each excelled and struggled in different areas. And this was inborn; all children are different (Rashi, Bereishit, 25:22). This meant they needed different things from their parents, from their educators.

The pasuk that tells us Yitzchak loved Eisav and Rivka loved Yaakov is teaching us something so obvious: different children have different educational needs (even if you read the pasuk from Rav Hirsch’s point of view). Unfortunately, it is something that is often forgotten in our Jewish education system today. Students of a certain age should have more choice. Some people like poring over a text themselves. Some people like battling with a chavruta. Some people like discussions that focus on big concepts. Some people prefer the nitty-gritty details of halacha. Some people like philosophy or Tanach or Chassidut or Mussar or Gemarah or practical halacha or parsha. There is so much to learn, and so many ways in which to learn. Why should anyone be limited?

About the Author
After being born and raised in London and then spending a year in Israel, I am currently studying for a degree in English Literature. I love finding connections between Torah and the texts that I'm reading for my course, discovering how ideas overlap and diverge in both content and presentation.
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