Constructive Criticism by Yonatan Kaplan


Parashat Toledot discusses the parallel lives of Eisav and Yaakov. Until the age of thirteen, both were directed in the ideal Jewish way of life by their father Yitzchak and grandfather Avraham, and, according to Chazal, studied in the Beit Midrash every day. However, once they reached the age of Bnei Mitzvah, their individual life goals became clear and evidently different.

Yaakov continued on the lifelong path of a Ben Torah, spending his time in various Batei Midrash, enveloping his life in Torah and Mitzvot. On the other hand, Eisav assumed the life of a hunter, not only trapping animals but also trapping and tricking the people around him with his renowned wit. To one end, Eisav is said to have been even asked by local judges to help convict criminals; but he also used his slyness to trick his father into believing he was truly studying in the Beit Midrash by mentioning topics and asking intelligent questions when he really just briefly heard them as he would pass by.

Toledot also illustrates the love of Yitzchak toward Eisav in contrast with the love displayed by Rivkah toward Yaakov. Why did each parent seem to favor a certain child? In addition, how can we make sense of the fact that despite Yaakov and Eisav’s similar beginnings, their lives turned out so differently?

At first glance, it seems that Yitzchak was blind to the fact that Eisav was truly an immoral person who had no concern for Judaism. To some extent this may have been true as Yitzchak was served well by Eisav; however, it was also clear that Yitzchak knew the truth about Eisav. Nonetheless, Yitzchak continued to maintain such a loving relationship with Eisav for a very important reason. He knew of Eisav’s wicked ways and understood how much worse they would be if he were not so affectionate towards Eisav. He wanted to attract Eisav to Judaism by being an understanding and loving father. Additionally, Yitzchak was aware of the fact that Eisav would produce great descendants and wanted to create a good impression for them for the sake of the future Jewish people. Rivkah, on the other hand, showed love only to Yaakov because she knew of the prophecy given by Sheim, which said that the younger brother, Yaakov, would be worthy and great. And as such, she did not show the same care towards Eisav.

With this understanding of the difference in Yitzchak and Rivkah’s attitudes, it becomes clear how the two sons grew to be so different. Chazal condemn Yitzchak for not sufficiently criticizing his son Eisav; they believe that for a person to grow in maturity and in spirituality, he must be rebuked, and it is the job of the parents to deliver such rebuke. Though he meant well, Yitzchak failed to teach Eisav maturity, and because Eisav lacked this important criticism, he grew into an evil person. Yaakov, on the other hand, received rebuke from Yitzchak and Rivkah (her care and affection toward him included scolding) and was able to learn and grow as a person and become a major Talmid.

The Parashah sends a clear message to us that because of the difference in how harsh their parents were towards them: Eisav turned into an inhumane hedonist, while Yaakov developed into the leader of Am Yisrael. We, too, can still learn from this, see the two opposites, and understand that the way we grow is by accepting our faults and learning from the advice and criticism of the people around us. 

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