The “Monday Morning Quarterback” is a skill that has been used long before football started. As long as decisions have been made, there have always been others who have used hindsight to question those decisions. A great example is in Parashat Toledot. It is puzzling how Yitzchak could be “fooled” by Eisav into thinking Eisav was a Tzaddik. Is Yitzchak unable to see the wicked nature of his son Eisav? Doesn’t Rivkah share her thoughts about Eisav with Yitzchak? Other Mefarshim ask the question from a different angle: how could Yitzchak apparently fail in raising Eisav properly?
In an amazing analysis of Yitzchak’s parenting, Rav Rubman, quoted in Lekach Tov, suggests an approach that demonstrates Yitzchak’s greatness. Eisav does not fool Yitzchak. In fact, Yitzchak knows his son’s strengths and weaknesses well. Eisav is not intended to be Yitzchak’s spiritual heir, and Yitzchak is fully aware of Eisav’s personality. When Yaakov “tricks” his father, Yitzchak comments on how unusual it is for his son Eisav to utter Hashem’s name. Furthermore, the Berachah intended for Eisav is a blessing of material prosperity; notably absent is the presence of any of the blessings Hashem had promised Avraham. Yitzchak is not planning on conferring those blessings upon Eisav because they were always intended for Yaakov.
Following this approach, it is strange that the Torah describes Yitzchak’s love for Eisav. However, it can be understood from a story Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks tells of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (Celebrating Life, p. 42). An observant man sent a letter to Rav Kook expressing his frustration: “I loved my son. I gave him everything. And now he has abandoned our faith. What shall I do?” Rav Kook responded, “You loved your son before. Now love him even more.” Although the father was frustrated by his son’s decision to leave observant Judaism, Rav Kook encouraged the father to continue to love his son as before. Similarly, Yitzchak knows his son, Eisav, and the path that he has chosen. Rather than abandon him, Yitzchak decided to “love him more.”
Rav Rubman finds a scriptural support to this idea. When contrasting the love Rivkah had for Yaakov and the love Yitzchak had for Eisav, the Torah writes, “VaYe’ehav Yitzchak Et Eisav … VeRivkah Ohevet Et Yaakov,” “Yitzchak loved Eisav … and Rivkah loves Yaakov” (BeReishit 25:28). Rivka’s love for Yaakov is described in the present, whereas Yitzchak’s love for Eisav is described in the inversed future tense. Yitzchak is working towards this future love. Loving Eisav is a challenge for Yitzchak because of the frustration he may feel about Eisav’s life path. Yet Yitzchak knows that as long as Eisav still respects him and desires the father-son relationship, Yitzchak must strive to love Eisav.
Certainly, Yitzchak has reason to abandon his son. However, the powerful lesson of Yitzchak’s parenting is that certain things are in our control, while others are not. Yitzchak cannot force Eisav to be a certain way, nor can Yitzchak change him. All Yitzchak can do is change the way he feels. While Yitzchak could have given up, he instead works on what is in his control. Yitzchak is presented with a challenge and turns within to try his best to succeed. We too should approach every challenge with this perspective of what we all can do to reach our goals!