Respect and Suspect Him
Rabbi Reuven Mann
In this week’s Parsha, Toledot, we read about the birth of twins, Yaakov and Eisav to the second matriarch, Rivka. Although they shared the same womb the boys were hardly identical. In fact, they could not have been more different. It is obvious that the Torah does not believe that biology or heredity is destiny. In fact, “Yichus” (pedigree) is not as compelling as it is cracked up to be. The Torah attests to the diverse natures of the two brothers. Eisav, we are told, was a proficient hunter and a man of the field. Yaakov, however, was a pure person who “dwelled in tents.” At first glance the information that he lived in tents does not seem to convey anything about his character. Rashi, picking up on the reference to tents says, “the tent of Shem and the tent of Ever.” Thus, according to Rashi, the tents are halls of learning, what we would call, Yeshivot. Yaakov was not engaged in materialistic pursuits, but devoted all of his energy to studying with the most exalted teachers of the time. What was the attitude of the parents to their very different children? The answer comes as a surprise. Yitzchak, we are told, loved Eisav because “the hunt was in his mouth,” and Rivka loved Yaakov.
A number of questions arise. Are we to infer that Yitzchak only loved Eisav but not Yaakov? That would seem very strange given his dedication to spiritual perfection and love of learning. It should also be noted that the Torah provides the reason for Yitzchak’s love of Eisav but merely tells us that Rivka loved Yaakov without providing any explanation for her preference. The Torah is also strangely reticent about her attitude toward Eisav. How are we to understand this vital matter?
There is no question in my mind that Yitzchak loved Yaakov. Although the Torah does not say this explicitly it can be inferred from the fact that Yaakov was a “dweller of tents.” Yitzchak had been raised by Avraham and valued nothing more than learning and good deeds. It is not necessary to mention that he loved his younger son who dedicated his life to Torah study. In fact, he later appointed him to be the heir of the spiritual heritage of Avraham and the next leader of the religious movement he had founded. The Torah, however, needs to tell us what his attitude was toward Eisav, who did not stay in Yeshiva but was a mighty hunter who aimed for success in materialistic pursuits. It therefore informs us that, indeed, Yitzchak did love him and the reason is because “the hunt was in his mouth.” On the simple level this means that he took great care of his father and served him the best meals. On a deeper level it implies that, as the Rabbis say, Eisav was extremely meticulous in performing the mitzvah of “kibbud Av” (Honoring one’s father). In addition he demonstrated great concern for performing all mitzvot associated with his profession such as giving proper tithes. He created the impression that while his energies were directed to the physical world he did so for worthy spiritual purposes. Judaism believes that developing the world through agriculture and other necessary professions is a great mitzvah, as long as one is doing it for moral goals.
Yitzchak was convinced that Eisav desired to serve Hashem through the proper use of his talents as a hunter and farmer and that is why he loved him as well as he loved Yaakov. Rivka, however, only loved Yaakov. She did not have the same feeling for Eisav. Perhaps she was more skeptical especially as she had come from a family of people who knew how to practice the arts of deception. She adhered to the philosophy of, “Respect him and suspect him.” On this matter her instincts proved to be correct and Yitzchak suffered extreme disappointment when the true character of Eisav became apparent.
Parents need to love their children but must be honest and able to acknowledge their true character and flaws, for only then can they be a positive force in their lives. May we attain this level of wisdom and honesty.