How could Esav – a child of Yitzchak and a grandchild of Avraham – have turned out so badly?
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests (based on earlier sources) that the fault partially lies with Yitzchak and Rivkah in that they ignored “the great law of education chanoch la’naar al pi darko, ‘bring up each child in accordance with its own way’ – that each child must be treated differently with an eye to the slumbering tendencies of his nature.”
Rav Hirsch argues that Esav and Yaakov possessed very different natures and thus should have been raised differently. “To try to bring up a Yaakov and an Esav at the same school desk, make them have the same habits and hobbies, want to teach and educate them in the same way for some studious, sedate, meditative life is the surest way to court disaster,” he writes.
But isn’t there one Jewish archetype to which parents should raise their children? No, writes Rav Hirsch. “The great Jewish task in life is basically simple, one and the same for all, but in its realization is as complicated and varied as human natures and tendencies are varied.”
Rav Hirsch points out that on his deathbed, Yaakov, speaking to his 12 children, prophesied of a Jewish nation that included – yes – scholars but also merchants, farmers, and soldiers, “and he blessed all of them.”
“[S]trength and courage, no less than brain and lofty thought and fine feelings are to have their representatives before G-d,” writes Rav Hirsch. Yitzchak and Rivkah should have noticed how very different Esav was from Yaakov and asked themselves: “how can all the strength and energy, agility and courage that lies slumbering in this child be won over to be used in the service of G-d”?
Had they done that, Esav could have become, “not a gibor tzayid, but in truth a gibor lifnei Hashem” and world history would have developed very differently.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) – head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, Germany for over 35 years – was a prolific writer whose ideas, passion, and brilliance helped save German Jewry from the onslaught of modernity.
Elliot Resnick, PhD, is the host of “The Elliot Resnick Show” and the editor of an upcoming work on etymological explanations in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash.