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Differentiation: A Modern Phenomenon?

By Rabbi Danny Kada
November 29, 2016

There is much dialogue in the generation we live regarding successful parenting and education. Society around us gives us the impression that the new bestsellers on positive parenting and innovative courses on successful schooling are a must in order to effectively discharge one’s duties as parent or teacher.

But we sometimes forget that we have a Book, our eternal Torah, which although ancient, contains timeless lessons if only we explore and examine it properly. The book of Bereishit in particular deals with relationships, albeit uneasy ones. We have strained relationships between father and son (Yitschak & Yaakov and Yaakov & Reuben), mother and son (Sarah & Yishmael and Rivkah & Esav), siblings (Kayin & Hevel and Yosef & brothers) and even husband and wife (Yaakov & Leah). These episodes are for us to learn from and apply to our daily lives.

One of the central difficulties and disappointments of Toldot is, how could an Yitschak and a Rivkah produce an Esav? Couldn’t such righteous parents produce children loyal to their values and principles? Moreover, both children seem to have potential in different ‘fields’. Yaakov is described as “Ish tam, yoshev ohalim”– a ‘simple’ man abiding in tents and Esav is “ish sadeh yodea tza’id” – a professional hunter of the fields. What happened? How and why did Esav become Esav the wicked?

Some have argued that it was mere genetics. Rivkah came from an idolatrous home and so did Avraham. Esav happened to receive all the negative genes from both sides – paternally and maternally. This doesn’t fit very well with the concept of Free Will, one of the axiomatic principles of Judaism. Others attribute Esav’s slump to Rivkah’s favouritism of Yaakov. Rivkah was the ‘mother at home’ and Esau sensed her lack of interest in him causing him to embark on his own path.

Rabbi Shimson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) maintains that Yitschak and Rivkah were responsible for Esav’s new path but for a different reason. For Rabbi Hirsch, the key words in their upbringing are “Vayigdelu hane’arim” and the lads grew up’. That was the parents’ mistake. Yaakov and Esau grew up in the same educational infrastructure. Yaakov was a wholesome individual and the schooling system of his parents suited him and his needs. Esav, alas, was of different nature. He was more animated and energetic and was not suited for the same educational system that his brother was experiencing. But his parents failed to recognize that and made them grow up together: one school, one system, one technique. Esav was stifled and the natural reaction of being stifled is to burst open from those chains and forge a new, independent path through life.

Every child must be raised as an individual. Each individual child whose education has been entrusted to us has a unique mission to complete. The practical means by which we are to guide each individual child to his or her potential are not the same. They are as different from one another as the tendencies and abilities and the intellectual and emotional potential are in each individual personality. A shoe does not fit all feet. An effective parent or teacher should be able to raise children as different as Jacob and Esav in such a manner that both of them will grow up to be good and capable as each other, but in different fields.

King Shelomo later echoed this with the maxim “chanoch lenaar al pi darko” raise the child according to his path and character traits. Children have different learning preferences and one size doesn’t fit all.

Our children are our saplings. Just like different plants need different types of food and varied amounts of water and sunlight, so too our children need different types of training and varied amounts of praise and love.

We can thus understand why the Talmud teaches us that teachers (and parents, for every parent is essentially a teacher) who perform their duties as required, will shine like the stars for eternity.



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