In the opening Pesukim of this week’s Parsha, there are two comments of Rashi that appear to contradict each other. When the Torah states that Rivka’s brother was Lavan and her father was בתואל, Rashi explains that this is written to praise Rivka for growing up in a house full of wicked people yet not learning from their evil ways. On the phrase ויעתר לו, however, Rashi quotes the Gemara in Yevamot (64a), which says that the reason the Pasuk says לו (Hashem answered Yitzchak) and not לה (Hashem answered Rivka) is to teach that אינו דומה תפילת צדיק בן צדיק לתפילת צדיק בן רשע, “The prayer of a Tzaddik who descends from a Tzaddik is greater than the prayer of a Tzaddik who descends from a Rasha.” While Rashi initially praises Rivka who, after having an upbringing not conducive to holiness, becomes righteous, he then minimizes her holiness by implying that one who grows up among holy people is better than one who grows up among wicked people.
Chazal records this tension as well. The Gemara in Berachot (34b) records the following debate: Rav Yochanan makes a comment that implies that one who has always been righteous is greater that a Ba’al Teshuva. Rav Avahu argues, “In the place where a Ba’al Teshuva stands, even a complete Tzaddik cannot stand.” Some suggest that this argument is the basis for the tension in Rashi.
Another approach to Rashi may come from the following Chassidic teaching. Rabbi Menachem Mendel MiKotzk asks a question on Rashi’s second comment. How can the Gemara learn anything from this episode? Were not both Rivka and Yitzchak answered in their plea for children? The Kotzker answers that their prayers were not just for children, but for specific types of children as well. They both knew that they would have two children: one righteous and one wicked. Whereas Yitzchak prayed that the righteous son should be completely righteous and thereby leave only the negative traits for the wicked son, Rivka prayed that the wicked son receive some positive characteristics and not be completely evil. This would, however, make it impossible for the Tzaddik to be completely righteous. We may now revisit the teaching of Yevamot: אינו דומה תפילת צדיק [על] בן צדיק לתפילת צדיק [על] בן רשע, “The prayer of a Tzaddik [for] a son who is a Tzaddik is not comparable to the prayer of a Tzaddik [for] a son who is wicked.
This explains why Rashi’s comments are not contradictory: the second comment is not about who is greater; rather, it compares Rivka’s and Yitzchak’s respective prayers for different types of children. If Yitzchak’s prayer was answered, Esav should have been completely wicked, but we know he was very careful to honor his father. This inconsistency may be based on an idea developed by Rav Aharon Kotler, zt”l. He explained that the reason Esav’s head was buried in מערת המכפלה was because the Torah that Esav learned remained in his head. Esav failed to internalize his Torah, and whatever Torah he did internalize was inherently problematic. Therefore, the Kotzker’s idea that Esav was a רשע בשליבותו remains intact. We should all be זוכה to have Torah permeate our entire body and not remain in our heads.