What factors determine personality?

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Rabbi Nachman Kahana,

Rabbi Nachman Kahana
Rabbi Nachman Kahana
אתר האינטרנט של הרב

Rebecca suffered with her pregnancy and went to obtain advice at the yeshiva of Shem and Ever. There she was told that in her womb were twins who would become the forefathers of two nations who would change the course of history, and that the younger would surpass the older.

Why did Rebecca go to the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, which according to some was situated in the northern city of Tzfat, while Rebecca was living in Hevron; she could have taken advice from the greatest spiritual figure of her generation, her husband Isaac?

And altogether, how could Rebecca act to divert the blessings to Jacob against her husband’s wishes?

I suggest that Rebecca could not in any way confide in her husband with this matter, as follows:

Rebecca knew that she was carrying twins. The Midrash says that when she passed a yeshiva, one fetus would become aroused, and when she passed an idolatrous temple, the second fetus would become aroused.

She knew that one of them constituted a bad seed from the moment of conception, so that nothing could change his basic nature.

Isaac was not aware of the terrible suffering of his wife, who knew she was going to give birth to an evildoer who craved idolatry. Rebecca concluded that her innately evil son was her fault, as Bethuel's daughter and Laban's sister, and the righteous son could be credited to Abraham's son Isaac.

When the twins grew up, Rebecca could not tell Isaac about Esau's evil deeds and just how far he had gone in his wickedness, lest Isaac blame her for having brought that evil soul from the house of Bethuel and Laban. Rebecca's regular practice was therefore to praise Esau before Isaac.

Matters continued in that fashion until their bar mitzvah age. Jacob became a righteous man who sat in study, whereas Esau was a man of the field, a man of absolute licentiousness.

Rebecca heard that Isaac was about to bless "righteous" Esau thanks to her own words of praise over the years, and she understood that she had to correct the warped situation that she, herself had created by hiding the truth from her husband.

Rebecca succeeded in hiding her great secret until Yitzhak understood by himself that Esau was evil when he married Canaanite women.
Many lessons that can be learned from Rebecca’s conduct; but perhaps the most important one is do not tamper, pervert or conceal the truth.
 
More on Rebecca's Great Secret

Educators and psychologists struggle over the question: What is the major factor that fashions the human personality - heredity or environment? A person is composed of traits he inherits from his parents, but he is also influenced by his surroundings. Which of the two is decisive?

The question becomes incisive when we talk about twins who are polar opposites in their personalities.

Heredity and environment indeed, constitute primary components in fashioning the personality, but it appears that the decisive factor is the divine soul that HaShem breathes into one.

Like an artist who creates using various media: paper, cloth, parchment, canvas and glass. Oil paint will ruin paper and chalk will leave no imprint on glass. Likewise, an educational approach that stresses character improvement will be lost on someone totally selfish, just as the free spirit may be repelled by an approach that emphasizes strictures.

Isaac and Rebecca strove to influence Esau to be true to Torah, but the call of the field was decisive. All of his parents' words of Torah and chastisement were rejected in the face of his desire to lead a life of licentiousness and immediate gratification. Esau, thus remained Esau.

Rebecca knew full well who Esau was, and Esau knew himself, as well. Esau's twin, Jacob, knew very well who his descendants would have to deal with until the end of time.

When Rebecca learned of Isaac's intent to transmit the blessings to Esau, she was left with no choice but to prevent this occurring at any cost. She found herself in a situation that she herself had created by hiding the true nature of Esau from Isaac - the reality that Esau had a soul that detested holiness.

Rebecca told Jacob, "Let any curse be on me, my son" (Genesis 27:13). I take upon myself the consequences liable to be caused by your deed, because I am responsible for the situation created.

Esau’s son was Eliphaz, who bore a son named Amalek. The Midrash states (Sifri on Genesis 33:4), "There is a well-known rule that Esau hates Jacob." That hatred did not derive from anything Jacob did or said. Rather, Esau's soul was the total opposite of Jacob's, just as impurity is the opposite of purity.

The Talmud in Pesachim 118b relates that in the future the nations will bring a gift to the Messiah, and HaShem will reject Esau's gift.
Nowadays, who are Esau's descendants?

According to tradition, most of the population of Christian Europe is linked to Esau, including those who emigrated from Europe to other places like the Western Hemisphere. It is interesting to note that the flags of most of the countries of Europe, including the United States, include the color red which is associated with Esau.

Rabbi Nachman Kahana is an Orthodox Rabbinic Scholar, Rav of Chazon Yechezkel Synagogue – Young Israel of the Old City of Jerusalem, Founder and Director of the Center for Kohanim, and Author of the 15-volume “Mei Menuchot” series on Tosefot, and 3-volume “With All Your Might: The Torah of Eretz Yisrael in the Weekly Parashah”, as well as weekly parasha commentary available where he blogs at http://NachmanKahana.com
 






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