Are parents responsible for how their kids turn out?

The story of the two brothers, Esau and Jacob, is a paradigm.

Rabbi Berel Wein,

Judaism Religious Jewish family (illustration)
Religious Jewish family (illustration)

The lives of our ancestors Yitzchak and Rivkah (Isaac and Rebecca), the educational direction that they gave to their sons and their differing views of their household, are the subjects of biblical commentary throughout the ages. In our time a more intense psychological examination has dominated modern commentary, even traditional rabbinic commentary. The reason for this is the perplexing dichotomy of life and behavior represented by their twin sons, Yaakov and Eisav (Jacob and Esau).

There always exists a tendency to somehow visit the faults of the parents on the bad behavior of their progeny. This attitude has been reinforced by theories of psychiatry and psychology proposed over the last century. Because of this, there exists a somewhat distorted picture of the narrative that is recorded for us in this week's Torah reading.

Over the ages, the lives, attitudes and words of Yitzchak and Rivkah have been thoroughly dissected and analyzed. But as is so often in life, the microcosm does not always reflect the macrocosm. And looking for the answer as to what made Eisav, Eisav and Yaakov, Yaakov need not necessarily be found in the educational and family techniques of their parents.

Individuals are individuals and are given free will. We are all born with certain natural tendencies and the task of our life is to exploit them if they are positive and to control them if they are otherwise. Just as the twins were born with different physical characteristics, their natural tendencies in life also differ from the moment of their very birth.

The natural tendency of Eisav was to become a man of the field, a hunter, and a person given to physical strength and necessary violence. This natural tendency of virility, activity driven behavior and a narcissistic view combined to make Eisav the person that he was. He had many choices to control and direct his personality and activities into productive channels that would have benefited him and his society. Here is where freedom of choice and free will enters the picture and takes center stage.

The world needs people of the field. Not everyone can or should be an exclusive tent dweller. However, being such a person of the field requires the ability to abstain from violence and not to injure others. It was in this respect that Eisav failed. It was not his parents will that enabled him but rather him himself, who was fully responsible for his choices and his behavior. King David was also a man of the field, a hunter and champion of wild animals and enemies. But his physical strength and active nature were entirely controlled by his moral powers and his search for spirituality and eternity.

It could be that one's personal nature, which is implanted within us from the moment of birth, is difficult if not impossible to change. However every person's nature can be controlled and directed towards positive goals. In that path lies the great difference between the twins who dominate the narrative of this week's Torah reading