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Education That Fits the Student

Parashat Toldot

After years of childlessness, Rebecca became pregnant, but then suffered from a very difficult pregnancy. “Why me?!” she asked in frustration. She then goes to consult with God, and is told that she is carrying twins who are going to become bitter enemies, constantly at each other’s throat.

Esau and Jacob are born. Then we hear nothing about them until they are old teenagers and the incident with the lentil stew happens. After that, again, we hear nothing about them until their father Isaac is very old and sets out to bless them before he dies.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) views the Torah’s silence about Esau and Jacob’s upbringing as criticism of Rebecca and Isaac’s parenting choices. The prophet’s warning about the twins’ future was not meant as their unavoidable destiny; everyone has free choice. Rather, the prediction was meant to be taken as important information about each child’s inborn nature, allowing their parents to teach and raise each one in a way uniquely appropriate to him, which would have allowed them both to grow to be healthy, positively contributing adults. Had their parents heeded this warning, Esau and Jacob could have been amicable partners in developing God’s plan for humanity. Instead, it seems they were both raised with the same generic parenting, resulting in the prophet’s words actually coming true.

The fact that each of us is born with unique tendencies is to be seen as a blessing not a curse because diversity is what makes a society complete. But these unique tendencies need to be nourished and channelled for good. “Educate [each] child according to his/her [unique] way…” (Proverbs 22:6)