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How Well Do We Know Our Children?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Most of us like to think that we know our children pretty well. Most of us are probably accurate in our assessment of our children, the majority of the time. Naturally, we would expect our forefathers, people of great spiritual stature, to do the same. However, in the Torah portion of the week, we seemingly read of a case where one of our forefathers missed the mark completely.

Isaac and Rebecca have two sons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob loved to dwell in the tents of Torah and Esau preferred hunting in the fields. Yet, Isaac wanted to bless Esau and hand over the spiritual mantel to him. Rebecca, on the other hand, saw through Esau’s facade. How did Isaac misread the situation so terribly? Surely he should have identified Jacob as his natural spiritual heir.

Many commentators explain this difficulty in the following way. Isaac was certainly aware that Jacob was the Torah scholar and not Esau. He was also aware that Esau’s interests were in the fields, engaging the physical world. He envisioned these two brothers forming an incredible partnership for the advancement of all humanity. Esau would engage in the physical world and provide for his brother Jacob who was immersed in spiritual matters. Isaac knew that Esau was never going to be a Rosh Yeshiva, but hoped he would dedicate his physical talents to the physical and spiritual development of the world. This is why if one looks closely at the blessings intended for Esau it is apparent that they are blessings for success in the physical world.

Like Isaac, every father longs for children working together in mutual co-operation. Isaac’s vision and dream, whilst certainly theoretically possible, was dashed. Every partnership requires willing partners and Esau had no interest in partnering with Jacob. Esau was intent on using his physical prowess to fulfill his desires for power, wealth, and pleasure.

Ultimately, Jacob received both physical and spiritual blessings from Isaac. Jacob was to be self- supportive. His main focus was to be spiritual matters, but he would have the ability to engage in the natural world to provide for himself. The Jewish people are Jacob’s descendants. We need to realize Isaac’s dream internally. Some of us need to be predominantly supporters of Torah. Some of us need to be predominantly learners and teachers of Torah. Some of us need to combine the two. All of us need to contribute to Isaac’s initial vision of brothers working in cooperation for the betterment of our Nation and the entire world.