Rabbi Eliot Malomet Highland Park Conservative Temple – Congregation Anshe Emeth Highland Park, NJ Parashat Toldot
Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. (Gen. 25:28)
You would think that parents would know better. Like the traditional commentaries, we could devote many hours of discussion to why Isaac loved Esau and Rebekah loved Jacob. Isaac really loved Esau’s food; Rebekah loved listening to Jacob (Midrash); Rebekah saw Esau’s wickedness (Sforno); Rebekah loved Jacob because his lifestyle would lead to eternal life (Radak).
But the text compels us to ask many more questions than why one parent would love one child over the other. For example: did the boys sense their parents’ preferences? Did they ever try to “win over” the other parent? Did the parents’ preferences affect their sons’ eventual outcomes?
Children pick up cues from their parents. They know if they are getting more attention than their sibling. They can sense if they are getting more praise from one or more anger from the other. They constantly calibrate themselves relative to their siblings. It would have been natural for Jacob to try to please his father and Esau to try to please his mother and vice versa.
Esau is rash and impulsive; Jacob is conniving and full of stealth. Can we explain their characters because Esau needed the love of his mother, and Jacob needed the love of his father? Perhaps. Their conflict is not entirely their fault, but they are the ones truly responsible for their eventual reconciliation (in next week’s parasha). It is one of the great moments of the Torah. Esau and Jacob may have had a fraught relationship because of their parents, but their ability to come together teaches us that if we take responsibility for our lives, we can find wholeness despite the burdens that others – even our parents – have placed upon us.