Raising Eisav

An olah temimah, an unblemished elevation offering, usually refers to an animal sacrificed on the mizbei’ach. Not a bit of it is left over for the donor of the korban, for it is totally dedicated to Hashem. This is also a term used to describe Yitzchok Avinu, who at the Akeidah was brought upon the mizbei’ach by his father, Avrohom, as an olah to Hashem. There was nothing in it for either of them. Yitzchok had his whole life in front of him, but was about to lose it. Avrohom Avinu was about to forfeit his beloved son and possibly many of his followers, who would look at this act as merciless and needless. He would also have no one to carry on his legacy for future generations. Yet, neither one of them questioned Hashem, totally subjugating their own will to fulfill Hashem’s request.

In the end, Hashem told Avrohom that this was only a test of his loyalty and that he should substitute Yitzchok with a ram that was found nearby. But Avrohom and Yitzchok fulfilled this mitzvah with such intensity and devotion that Hashem forever sees the ashes of Yitzchok gathered before Him as if Yitzchok was really sacrificed. It remains the greatest zechus for Klal Yisroel to this day. According to one Medrash, Avrohom actually made an incision into Yitzchok’s neck, drawing some blood. After the Akeidah, angels brought Yitzchok to Gan Eden, where he recuperated for three years until Eliezer brought Rivkah from Aram to be married to him (Me’am Loez, Vayeira; Hadar Zekeinim, Toldos).

Obviously, then, Yitzchok reached the highest spheres of ruchniyus. There were no barriers between him and Hashem. He walked with malachim and experienced Gan Eden, the highest levels of spirituality. How, then, do we understand Yitzchok’s relationship with Eisav as described in this week’s sedrah? “And Yitzchok loved Eisav, for hunting was in his mouth…” (Bereishis 25:28). One would think that a tzaddik who was sacrificed to Hashem, who had already been to Gan Eden and reached the pinnacle of dveikus, would be totally removed from all earthly matters. Certainly, he wouldn’t admire someone for merely hunting and bringing him food. How, then, do we explain Yitzchok’s love of Eisav because of this mundane talent of his?

This question can be asked later on in the sedrah, when Yitzchok was already blind. Rashi says that by then, he no longer had a yeitzer hara. Usually, Hashem does not designate His name upon a tzaddik as long as he is still alive, but He was Elokei Yitzchok even when Yitzchok was still alive, as there was no longer a chance of him committing a sin. Yet, this holy tzaddik, at this exalted stage in his life before blessing Eisav, asked him to go out and hunt game and to prepare for him the delicacy that he loved (Bereishis 27:5).

It was well-known that the Chofetz Chaim would never refer to a food as being tasty. He would instruct others not to fill their tables with many types of food. It was enough to have just “a bit of potatoes with some vegetable soup.” He would refer to this as “a meal fit for kings.” At most, when asked by his rebbetzin how he enjoyed a certain dish that she made, he answered, “Es iz ah tchekave ma’achal. It is an interesting dish.” Once, at a Shabbos seudah, when asked about the food, he answered, “It’s very good.” He then let out a sigh and pushed his plate away. Apparently, he felt that by expressing himself in such a manner about food, he had become too attached to it, so he pushed it away. This despite the fact that it was during a Shabbos seudah, a seudas mitzvah, where there is a chiyuv of oneg Shabbos (Meir Einei Yisroel, Volume 3, page 643). If so, how can it be that Yitzchok Avinu, so totally removed from olam hazeh, placed such importance on something physical to the extent that he said, “The delicacies such that I love.”

Chanoch lenaar al pi darko gam ki yazkin lo yosur mimenuTrain the youth according to his way: even when he grows old, he will not swerve from it” (Mishlei 22:6). The Vilna Gaon explains that it is impossible for man to break his natural tendency, meaning the mazel he was born with. However, it is in a person’s power to decide how those kochos will be used. For example, Rav Ashi said, “He who is born under the mazel of ma’adim, redness, will have a tendency to spill blood. Either he will be a blood letter who cures people or a violent robber or a shochet or a mohel” (Shabbos 156a). ​

Yes, this is an ominous mazel for the person, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he is destined for failure. He can turn lemons into lemonade. He can work on becoming a tzaddik and then his spilling blood will manifest itself in the performance of mitzvos like bris milah, or he can become a beinoni, a regular person. Then he will spill blood for matters of reshus, like curing people. But if he is a rasha, his tendency of spilling blood will lead to outright murder.

A parent should not attempt to break the natural tendencies of his child. Rather, he should identify particular talents and steer the child to work on divrei kedusha and constructive things. Never tell a child, “Why can’t you be like So-and-so?” It is a foolish question with a simple answer: Because he isn’t So-and-so. Every person has his own unique kochos, and a child should be guided according to his own talents. You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, and you can’t mold a child into something that he is not. If one attempts to do so, he might see short-term gratification. Because while the child is under his parents’ power and fears them, he will confirm to what is demanded of him, but when he is older and he is on his own, he will just revert to his natural self. This is why Shlomo Hamelech says, “Train the youth according to his way…” Guide his natural talents and tendencies in the right direction, so that he utilizes them for good and continues doing so when he is older and on his own.

Yitzchok, one of the avos hakedoshim and merkava laShechinah, certainly knew what he was doing with his approach to Eisav. He recognized that he was a man of the wild, that he was under the mazel of ma’adim, that his tendencies were to spill blood, and that he possessed the talents to become a sportsman. He wasn’t naturally inclined to sit in the bais medrash like his brother, Yaakov. So he tried steering his son’s kochos in a direction where they could be utilized for serving Hashem. He would hunt to do chesed for others, to fulfill the mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim, and to support his brother, Yaakov, who dedicated his life to limud haTorah. Eisav also displayed a proficiency catching thieves. This could benefit mankind by preserving law and order. And who knows? One can always dream. If he could take pride in serving Hashem, then he himself would eventually turn into a masmid and serve Hashem in a more spiritual way.

By showing an appreciation of Eisav’s talents, Yitzchok was embracing the chosen method of chinuch, to train the youth according to his way, hoping that throughout his entire life, he would utilize his kochos for good. This is what is meant when the Torah tells us that Yitzchok loved Eisav for his hunting. Of course Yitzchok was far removed from indulging in matters of olam hazeh, but he saw Eisav’s hunting as a means for garnering his kochos for kedusha. He loved it as a vehicle for Eisav’s personal avodas Hashem. Instead of moping that Eisav wasn’t like Yaakov, he tried to capitalize on Eisav’s own personality.

Imagine how difficult this must have been for Yitzchok. The olam temimah who himself was totally immersed in ruchniyus, thinking holy thoughts throughout the entire day, had to lower himself to appreciate and even encourage these earthly talents of his son. Even later on, when Yitzchok no longer had a yeitzer hara, when he was more in the next world than down here, he still requested that Eisav bring him the tasty food that he loved. It wasn’t the luscious meat that he desired, but rather the knowledge that this would bring blessing to his son’s talents, the key to Eisav’s success both in this world and the next.

Indeed, Eisav loved his father. He was mekayeim kibbud av in a way that we can’t even imagine. When he would serve his father, he would don regal clothing (Pesikta Rabbah 24:55). Rabbon Shimon Ben Gamliel said, “No one honored their father like I did. Yet, I found that Eisav honored his father even more than I” (Devorim Rabbah 1:15). What, then, went wrong? If Yitzchok used the right method of chinuch and with such mesirus nefesh, how did Eisav turn out to be the rasha he was?

The answer to this question is that after all the chinuch, all of the proper guidance, and all of the parental devotion, it is ultimately up to the child as to how he will conduct his life, for he has his own koach habechirah. He must decide how he will conduct his life and how hard a battle he will wage to overcome the inclinations that pull him in the wrong direction. This is something that is beyond the parent’s kochos. All of the wisdom of proper chinuch and all of the savlonus on the part of the parents cannot guarantee the derech that their child will take.

The Medrash tells us that when Shmuel Hanovi came to anoint a king from amongst the sons of Yishai, he saw Dovid, who had a “red complexion with fair eyes.” Hashem told him to anoint Dovid, but he was afraid to. He is red like Eisav, thought Shmuel, and he will spill blood like him. Hashem answered, “But he has beautiful eyes.” Unlike Eisav, who is controlled totally by his passion of the moment, Dovid will seek the guidance of the Sanhedrin, the eyes of Klal Yisroel, as to when he should spill blood. And he himself has the vision to discern when to use his kochos, to fight the battles of Hashem, to destroy the wicked, the enemies of Yisroel (Bereishis Rabbah 66). Despite this penchant for spilling blood, Dovid was able to strengthen himself and dedicate himself to limud haTorah. Two personalities, Eisav and Dovid, with the same inclinations, but their own bechirah set them on two different paths, worlds apart from each other.

With all of the methodology in raising children, we are totally dependent on Hashem. As the Brisker Rov said about raising children who are yirei Shomayim, it takes Tehillim, Tehillim, and more Tehillim. The Chofetz Chaim once told a talmid that hatzlacha with children is a special bracha from Shomayim and is not dependent on chinuch. We have a mitzvah to be mechaneich our children, and if we don’t do so, we’ll have to give an accounting for why they strayed from the proper path. And we won’t be able to attribute it to other factors. If parents are mechaneich their children properly, they can say that they fulfilled their responsibility and they cannot be held accountable for their children’s failures. But ultimately, hatzlacha with children is a special blessing from Heaven (Meir Einei Yisroel, Volume 3, page 778).

Rav Huna said: How much illness and worry is avoided by someone whose Master in Heaven helps him’” (Yoma 22b). Those who are successful with their children should be constantly thankful to Hashem for these results. For with all of their efforts, without Heavenly assistance, the results could have been much different. Many are the parents who did everything right in chinuch, amongst them gedolei Yisroel, yet they didn’t enjoy the fruits of their labor and only experienced anguish. And there are many who haven’t a clue about chinuch and end up with model children. Parents have a tendency of breast beating, of blaming themselves when things don’t go right, of considering themselves failures. While the pain of these parents is great and they can hardly be comforted, the Chofetz Chaim’s words are a special message to them. They should not feel guilty, for they did what they can, and in Shomayim they will be duly rewarded, for they fulfilled their obligation to the fullest. The results are up to Hashem. It also teaches us not to pass judgment on parents whose children are not of the caliber we think they should be. Chances are that they did an excellent job. The results were beyond their control, and there by the grace of Hashem go I.

Yitzchok Avinu’s kochos did not go to waste. Eisav’s progeny brought forth many geirim in later generations. Among them were Ovadiah Hanovi, the grandchildren of Haman who learned Torah in Bnei Brak, Onkelos Hager, and the great Tanna Rebbi Meir. The Medrash tells us, “Why is a pig called a chazir? Because eventually Hashem will return it to Yisroel” (Vayikra Rabbah 13). The Ritva (Kiddushin 49b) brings a shitah that the chazir refers to Eisav, who will eventually return to Klal Yisroel. If this is true about Eisav, who was uncircumcised and committed the cardinal aveiros, then surely all the holy Yiddishe neshamos who swerved from the straight path will eventually return and bring much Yiddishe nachas to their parents. It can happen in strange ways and sooner than expected. It’s all in the hands of Shomayim.