Permission to be Different

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Parshas Toldos

The Torah says casually “And the children grew up.” A fact which onto itself presents no valuable news. Rashi quote the Medrash, however, which causes in my mind great excitement. The children grew up exactly the same. In fact, growing up,  one could not tell the difference between Yaacov and Esav. They were identical in every way. Suddenly at about thirteen years of age, differences began to occur. Physical differences as well as different interests. Yaacov took an interest in study. He was a home body, he sat in his tent, studying analyzing and developing Torah thoughts. Esav leaned toward the outside world trying his hand at hunting, archery.

The Medrash compares this to two parts of a plant. As they begin to grow they look similar but as they mature one part sprouts roses while the other part sprouts thorns. Yaakov was the rose, Esav was the thorn.

Hirsch in his usual incisiveness feels that the above verse s a criticism of Yitzchok. Until thirteen they were the same implies a major fault in the educational system of Yitzchak. If, says Hirsch, Yitzchok would have identified the differences between his two sons from the beginning he would have given him a completely different education than he gave Yaakov. But he closed his eyes to any differences. He educated both boys identically. For a while it worked. No one could tell the difference between them. But that was external. Deep inside the psyche of Esav, a tension was growing. There were ongoing feelings within Esav that were constantly being sublimated. It worked out fine, for a while, but then, “The children grew up” All the energy that Esav had had no direction. The thorns which G-d created to protect the rose became a weapon of destruction, competing with the rose and beating it down. The rest is history. Amalek, the Romans, the Nazis. Misdirected aggressiveness.

The great difference between Yaakov and Esav did not happen in spite of their identicalness but because of it.

One of the stupidest things I ever heard a parent say, a parent who should have known better, was that all of his children are born different, it is the challenge of the parent and the educators to mold the children so that they all end up the same. There is only one Torah, he said, and everyone must conform. Wrong on every level!  Everyone was created different for a reason because everyone has a different purpose in this world. It is the job of the parent and educator to identify the unique qualities of the child and enable him or her to make a mark. If this is not done what is good will become destructive.

The Talmud says, “1000 students will enter the educational system and only one will emerge a Gadol.” This is reality of humanity. Traditionally one would be world leader the other 999 would become teachers, Rabbis, youth leaders and upstanding members of the community. Today the whole system is designed to produce that one and hundreds of the 1000 become thorns in our side, the one Gadol is also dubious.

Give them permission to be different. There is no such thing as the best Yeshiva.

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