This week’s Parsha opens with the story of Rivka’s suffering pain from her fetus. The Torah writes, “Vayitrotzetzu HaBanim Bekirbah,” “And her children agitated within her” (25:22). As Chazal explain, when she passed before the Yeshiva of Sheim and Eiver, her son Yaakov would struggle to leave her womb, and when she passed a house of idolatry, her son Eisav would try to emerge.
Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, in his Sefer Something to Say, quotes the Ma’ayanot HaNetzach, who comments that many crucial factors of a child’s development depend upon the mother. If a mother is used to coming to shul or the Beit Medrash, if she shows a love and appreciation for Judaism, the Yaakov personality within her child strives to come out. If, on the other hand, she prefers the contrary (Chas VeShalom), a culture foreign to our heritage, the child’s Eisav-like tendencies struggle to emerge, and her offspring will emulate the wicked Eisav.
This idea is evident from many different sources. For example, Pirkei Avot 2:11 states about Rabi Yehoshua ben Chanania, “Ashrei Yoladto,” “Praiseworthy is the one who bore him” (i.e. his mother), because his mother always brought him to the Beit Medrash even as an infant so that his ears would become attuned to the sound of Torah study. This instilled in him a love of Torah like that of Yaakov Avinu early in life, enabling him to become a revered rabbi when he grew up.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch notes that the Hebrew word for mother, Eim, is spelled with the same letters (Aleph and Mem) as the word Im, which means “if.” He explains that the Eim, the mother, is the “Im,” the “if” – the crucial factor in the upbringing of the family. If the input of the mother is consistent with the goals of the end product, the child will most likely follow those goals.
In the Hagadah Shel Pesach, the Baal HaHagadah speaks about four types of children. About the child who is so young that he does not even know how to ask a question, the Hagadah says, “At Petach Lo,” “You (feminine) open up for him.” Many have explained that the feminine form was chosen because when a child is very young, it is primarily the job of the mother to educate him – so it is she who has the greatest influence on what he learns.
There is a famous story told about the Steipler Gaon ZT”L. He was once asked about the secret to his success. The questioner asked him, “How did the Rav become the great Steipler Gaon?” He answered, “Because my mother prays for me.” The puzzled questioner asked his sixty-year-old Rav, “‘Prays?’ Doesn’t the Rav mean ‘prayed?’” The Steipler Gaon replied, “No, I meant ‘prays.’ Even now my mother continues to pray for my success in learning, and that I should be God-fearing.” Her fervent prayers were answered, and her son became one of the greatest Torah giants of our time.
Let us learn this important lesson about instilling the fear of Heaven into our families and being excellent role models to our children. Let us teach by example about the greatness of Torah study and prayer, and hopefully we will see the Yaakov within our children emerge as we fan the spark which they possess. With Hashem’s help, may we see them develop into fine Jewish young men and women.