“And the youths grew up, and Esav (Esau) was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Yaakov (Jacob) was an innocent man, dwelling in tents. And Yitzchak (Isaac) loved Esav because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rivka (Rebecca) loves Yaakov.” (Bereishit/Genesis 25:27-28)
In this week’s Torah portion, after 20 years of infertility, Yitzchak and Rivka have twin sons, Esav and Yaakov. By the time the boys are 13, differences emerge in their personalities, with Esav turning to idols and Yaakov going to the study hall. Commentators note that these distinctions cause each parent to love each son differently, or to appear to favor one over the other.
How can parents, especially those on such exalted levels as our matriarch and patriarch, favor one child over another?
“Esav became a hunter, but not only in the literal sense. He became adept at trapping his father by asking questions that would make him appear to be unusually pious…and he gained his father’s love by serving him conscientiously; for example, by hunting game to put in his mouth, so that Yitzchak could eat fresh and tasty meat. Yaakov, however, was morally wholesome, saying what he thought and never being duplicitous, and spending all his time in the study tents of Shem and Ever.” (Artscroll’s Stone Chumash, citing Rashi and Bereishit Rabbah 63:10)
Mrs. Shira Smiles on yutorah.org notes that when Torah describes Esav, the word ish (man) is used twice, whereas the word ish is used only once when Yaakov is described. She teaches that the double usage of ish signifies that Esav has two distinct personalities; he is able to appear righteous when required, such as when Esav is with Yitzchak and does not want to upset his father by revealing his true personality.
While some commentators contend that Yitzchak is too pure to comprehend Esav’s manipulation and deceit, others credit Yitzchak with possessing a deep understanding of Esav’s personality. Mrs. Dina Coopersmith on aish.com writes that Rivka, too, easily is able to recognize Esav’s deceit because she comes from a family of manipulators.
R. Shlomo Katz on torah.org cites the Krystonopol Rav’s explanation for Yitzchak’s seemingly blind love for Esav: In order to influence Esav and to prevent him from entirely abandoning his parents’ ways, Yitzchak has to love Esav. He remarks that the verb used in the verse is in the causative tense rather than the simple past tense: “Yitzchak caused love to Esav” rather than “Yitzchak loved Esav.” In other words, Yitzchak struggles to love Esav.
Mrs. Smiles puts forth that Yitzchak is aware of Esav’s negative traits but goes out of his way to find a positive trait that he can praise. He pours out his love, hoping to win over Esav, and Esav responds accordingly. By contrast, Yaakov does not require outright demonstrations of parental love. He studies Torah with his father and this is how they become endeared to one another.
Rav Yissocher Frand on torah.org also writes about the grammar of the verse, noting that Yitzchak “loved” while Rivka “loves.” He writes: “The Dubno Maggid suggests a solution based on a keen observation of the world. In non-Jewish society, people define themselves and are defined by others according to what they do. In Jewish society, people are defined by what they are.”
Writes Rav Frand: “Judaism values all people for what they are, for their tzelem Elokim (being created in G-d’s image), for their character, their integrity, their goodness, their ethical standards, their menschlichkeit (how decent, upright, mature and responsible they are), their spiritual accomplishments.”
Rav Frand explains that Esav represents non-Jewish values because he wants to be known as athlete, warrior and hunter and to be valued for his past achievements. Therefore, Yitzchak loved Esav (in the past tense) for the game he put in Yitzchak’s mouth, a past accomplishment.
On the other hand, Yaakov represents Jewish values, defined by what he is rather than what he does. Rivka loves Yaakov (in the present tense) because the love continues uninterrupted and is independent of his latest achievement.
As parents, we must never to give up on a child. We must find at least one positive quality and help the child to develop it. We must invest extra energy in the child who does not mirror ourselves or our values. We must love our children for what they are, rather than for what they accomplish.