We (Don’t) Need (No) Education
“And when the boys grew up, it came to pass, that Eisav was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, and Ya’akov was a pure man, dwelling in tents.”
Rashi comments that while the twins were small, their behavior was indistinguishable, and it was difficult to define their true nature. However, once they reached 13, one went to study in the Beit Midrash, and the other turned to idolatry.
It would appear from Rashi that Ya’akov and Eisav were always very different in nature, yet this difference only expressed itself once they matured. In fact, Rashi goes one step further. The simple meaning of the verse seems to describe their hobbies and pastimes. Eisav was a man of the field, a hunter, whereas Ya’akov was a man of purity who dwelled in tents, presumably a scholarly type.
Rashi insists that when the verse speaks of Eisav the hunter it really means Eisav the deceiver, in contrast to Ya’akov the honest broker. Not only did they have different interests from the outset, but this difference was a direct reflection of their inner character.
Indeed, Rashi has already pointed out to us that these different natures were evident even during the embryonic stages of their lives.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, in one of his most famous comments in Chumash, paints a very different picture:
“Our sages, who never objected to draw attention to the small and big mistakes and weaknesses in the history of our great forefathers, thereby making them all the more instructive for us, here too on this very verse make a remark that should be a ‘signal’ for us all. They point out that the striking contrast in Avraham Avinu’s grandchildren may have been due not so much to a difference in their temperaments as to mistakes in the way they were brought up.
As long as they were little, no attention was paid to the slumbering differences in their natures. Both received the same teaching and education, and the great law of education, ‘bring up each child in accordance with its own way’ was forgotten. Each child must be treated differently, noting the latent tendencies of his character, and using them to be educated to develop his special characteristics for the one pure human and Jewish life. The great Jewish task in life is basically simple; one and the same for all, but in its realization it is as complicated and varied as are human natures and tendencies, and the manifold varieties of life that entail.
…To try to bring up a Ya’akov and an Eisav in the same college; 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. A Ya’akov, with ever increasing zeal and zest, will imbibe knowledge from the well of wisdom and truth, while an Eisav can hardly wait for the time when he can throw the old books – and the whole purpose of life – behind his back. This is a life that he has only known from one angle, and in a manner for which he can find no disposition in his whole nature.
If only Yitzchak and Rivka had studied Eisav’s nature and character early enough, and asked themselves how even an Eisav – all that strength and energy, agility and courage, that lies slumbering in this child – can be won over to be used in the service of the Almighty, then perhaps Ya’akov and Eisav, with their totally different natures, could still have remained twin brothers in spirit and life.”
In stark contrast to Rashi, Rav Hirsch does not see the boys’ futures as being a forgone conclusion almost from their conception. As we have already noted above, Rashi sees the young children’s activities not as mere hobbies, but as real reflections of who they were. Rav Hirsch does not see it that way at all. Eisav and Ya’akov had different interests; they were two entirely different human beings.
Nevertheless, there is no reason why this factor alone should immediately result in the elevation of Ya’akov to Tzaddik status, whilst at the same time relegating Eisav to the category of Rasha. On the contrary, if the parents of such children are able to understand their inherently different offspring as early as possible, and educate them according to their needs and talents, then there is no reason whatsoever as to why Eisav should fall into the category of idolater.
It is certainly not for us to decide whether Rav Hirsch has succeeded in truly understanding what actually happened during the twins’ childhood. However, the fundamental educational principle that he presents is extremely valid.
We can find a similarly important statement at the very end of Mesillat Yesharim. The Ramchal finishes his masterpiece with the following words:
“It is understood that each individual must guide and direct himself according to his calling and according to the particular activities in which he is engaged. The path of saintliness appropriate to one whose Torah is his calling, is unsuited to one who must hire himself out to work for his neighbor, and the path of neither of these is suitable for one who is engaged in business. This holds true for all of the particulars in the affairs of men, each calling for a path of saintliness corresponding to its nature. This is not to say that saintliness varies in nature. It is unquestionably the same for everyone, in that its intent is the doing of that which brings pleasure to the Creator. But in view of the fact that circumstances vary, it follows of necessity that the means by which they are to be directed towards the desired goal vary in kind. One, who, out of necessity, plies a humble trade, can be a true saint just as one from whose mouth learning never departs…”
If we fully internalize this message, we will not fall into the trap described by Rav Hirsch. If we truly comprehend the fact that the Almighty can be served, not only through learning Torah, but also through art, music, business etc… then we would be much more sensitive to the dangers Rav Hirsch describes.
Unfortunately, it is specifically because we have been educated to believe that the only way to reach the Almighty is through intensive Torah study that we refuse to offer any real alternatives to our children.
What if the child is not a natural student? What if the child is a natural artist? Is it the wish of the Almighty that we subdue the talents of the child and force him to sit and learn against his will? Will this bring the child closer to or further from Hashem? We are not talking about discarding halachic norms, Heaven forbid, but more about developing the raw talents of our children in such a way that they will learn to use those talents in the service of Hashem.
How many thousands of yeshiva students, who are not naturally inclined to sit endlessly in a Beit Midrash struggling with the issues of Bava Kamma, would develop a more healthy relationship with Hashem if they were being encouraged to study Torah using their natural talents? We obviously wish to encourage Talmud Torah, but at all costs? Can we not adjust the traditional forms of Talmud Torah to include art for the artist, and music for the musician? And if all forms of study are difficult for the child, is he now an outcast? Can he not be encouraged to be an Orthodox Jew in his business activities?
No one can dispute the centrality of Torah in our lives, but as parents and teachers we have the obligation to find the very best way for our children and students to succeed in their Torah learning, and to feel that they have a growing relationship with the Almighty. In order to succeed in our colossal task, we would be well advised to closely watch our children; understand their needs; learn about their interests, and consequently work out a way in which to help our children develop spiritually, whilst at the same time nurturing their talents to complement their study of Torah.
I have a number of students who are very serious artists. It was brought to my attention that these students use every moment of their free time to paint and draw. I realized that it is not enough to simply allow them to continue their hobby, thus at least showing them that their pastime does not conflict with Orthodox Judaism, but why not go one stage further? Why not try to integrate their art with their learning? Why not study a parasha with all the famous commentaries, and then have the students create an art portfolio that would express the episode according to three or four Rishonim? Surely this would enhance their studying; stimulate their interest; cultivate their talents, and invigorate their souls?
If I have a student who is an outdoor-loving type, a student who cannot sit still, would it not be more productive to teach him Tenach by hiking around Israel with a Bible in hand?
As parents, every time we sit together with our children on Shabbat, we must endeavor to interest every little neshama sitting around the table. One child loves to sing, so you must sing, but not too much, because the other hates singing, and if you sing too much he will want to leave the table. So you must now run a quiz, because that is what interests your second child. And what about the younger children? So we take a break from singing and quizzing, and we do a little storytelling, etc.
The fact that one child went to a particular school or had one particular teacher does not mean that the next child must do the same. I am often amazed when parents feel that they need to tell me that my new student is different from her sister who studied in our school two years ago. Why would I think that they are the same? There are no two people in the world who are the same!
Whether Eisav’s spiritual decline was a result of unsuitable education is impossible to know for sure. However, for thousands of Jews around the world, we do know that bad education has been and unfortunately continues to be a major factor in the apathy, ignorance, and assimilation of the younger generation. As my teacher of blessed memory, Rabbi Yitzchak Bernstein, often said: “It is not that people do not want to learn Torah; it is that we do not know how to teach it!”
 See above, p.?
 At this stage, we must leave aside the extremely interesting question, implicitly posed by Rashi, that seemingly infers that Eisav will unquestionably become an idolater. At least according to Rashi’s interpretation of events, the element of free choice in relation to Eisav seems to be almost non-existent.
 The Path of the Just, by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato.