In the beginning of this week’s Parsha, we read about the birth to Yitzchak and Rivka of twin sons – Ya’akov and Esau. They were different in character and behavior. Ya’akov was smooth-skinned while Esau was hairy. Ya’akov loved to study while Esau hunted. Ya’akov was straight and honest while Esau was a man of deception. Ya’akov was righteous while Esau was evil.
This raises a difficult question. How do we account for this difference between Ya’akov and Esau? They were identical twins . . . their parents were both righteous and spiritual people . . . they had the same upbringing.
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch suggests that the solution is in the words of the Torah: “and the boys grew up.” As long as they were little, no attention was paid to their differences in nature.
This goes against a great rule that was stated by King Solomon in the book of Proverbs, “educate a child according to his way.” Not every child can receive the same education. What works for Ya’akov is not necessarily going to work for Esau. Trying to give the two of them the same education is a recipe for disaster. Ya’akov will thrive and Esau will be lost.
Rabbi Hirsch explains that Yitzchak and Rivka were righteous people – no doubt interested in what was best for their children. Yet, perhaps they misunderstood the needs of their children. Had Yitzchak and Rivka recognized the true nature of Esau while he was still young, they might have been able to channel his strengths as a compliment to Ya’akov. Both Ya’akov and Esau would have been involved in the service of G-d, just in different methods.
As it turned out, according to the opinion of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, the Torah is pointing out the mistake made by Yitzchak and Rivka so that we can learn from it and not make the mistake in our own lives.
This idea of “חנוך לנער – educate a child according to his way” – unfortunately seems to be ignored quite often. There is more than one method to teach Torah. Some like to move fast and cover a lot of territory, while others like to take their time and perhaps absorb it and analyze it a bit more. Some take to one commentator while others take to other commentators. Some have more of a liking to Gemara, others to Chumash, others to Nach, others to Halacha, while others to Jewish philosophy. Just because one way suits me, doesn’t mean that you also have to do it that way. We must try and recognize the strengths of students and others and develop those strengths – whether it is Gemara, Chumash, Navi, Halacha, Philosophy, outreach or chesed.
The same is true in the professions. Just because the parents are doctors, does not mean the children must be doctors. One child might go to college, but the other child might be better suited for a trade school. One child might be suited for dedicating some years to developing his/her Torah knowledge. Another child might be better off learning how to support his/her sibling who is studying.
“Educate a child according to his way”. The words of King Solomon are just as true today as they were when he wrote them more than 2800 years ago. Don’t throw everybody into the same pile. Look at the individual and assess his/her strengths. We need to give our children every opportunity to succeed. They are the future of the Jewish nation. Through them we will build a Jewish people committed to G-d and the Jewish people, each person in his own way, everyone according to the path of the Torah.