Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Don't Raise a Esav Like a Yaakov!

This passage by Rav Hirsch is very important for parents and educators alike. I will make some comments at the end.

ויגדלו הנערים - As long as they were little, no attention was paid to the slumbering differences in their natures (see on V.24), both had exactly the same teaching and educational treatment, and the great law of education חנוך לנער על פי דרכו "bring up each child in accordance with its own way" was forgot­ten: -That each child must be treated differently, with an eye to the slumbering tendencies of his nature, and out of them, be educated to develop his special characteristics for the one pure human and Jewish life. The great Jewish task in life is basically simple, one and the same for all, but in its realisation is as complicated and varied as human natures and tendencies are varied, and the manifold varieties of life that result from them.
When Father Jacob visualised the tribes of our nation in the sons standing around his death-bed, he saw, not only future priests and teachers, he saw around him the tribe of Levites, the tribes of royalty, of merchants, of farmers, of soldiers, before his mental eye he saw the nation in all its most manifold characteristics and diverse paths of life, and he blessed all of them… There, strength and courage, no less than brain and lofty thought and fine feelings are to have their representatives before God, and all, in the most varied ways of their callings are to achieve the one great common task of life.
But just because of that, must each one be brought up לפי דרכו according to the presumed path of life to which his tendencies lead, each one differently to the one great goal. To try to bring up a Jacob and an Esau in the same college, make them have the same habits and hobbies, want to teach and educate them in the same way for some studious, sedate, meditative life is the surest way to court disaster. A Jacob will, with ever increasing zeal and zest, imbibe knowledge from the well of wisdom and truth, while an Esau can hardly wait for the time when he can throw the old books, but at the same time, a whole purpose of life, behind his back, a life of which he has only learnt to know from one angle, and in a manner for which he can find no disposition in his whole nature.Had Isaac and Rebecca studied Esau's nature and character early enough, and asked themselves how can even an Esau, how can all the strength and energy, agility and courage that lies slumbering in this child be won over to be used in the service of God … then Jacob and Esau, with their totally different natures could still have remained twin­brothers in spirit and life; quite early in life Esau's "sword" and Jacob's "spirit" could have worked hand in hand, and who can say what a different aspect the whole history of the ages might have presented. But, as it was, ויגדלו הנערים, only when the boys had grown into men, one was surprised to see that, out of one and the selfsame womb, having had exactly the same care, training and schooling, two such contrasting persons emerge.

Rav Hirsch's words are critical for successful parenting, and an important reminder for all educators. We cannot educate with one final product in minds. We have to look carefully at each of our children, each and every one of our talmidim, and spend time thinking about the way in which they may be stimulated, challenged supported, so that they may each reach their personal potential. So that each child can become a healthy, happy adult in the service of God and Nation. And this is easier said than done. It is mind-boggling to entertain the thought that with different educational approach, Esav might have become Esav Hatzaddik.

I vital point here is to look closely at our students and children and to identify emotions, character, and even warning signs, anger, distress. Rashi comments that in their childhood the children acted the same "and no one looked in an insightful way to understand their personalities." At age thirteen, they each went their separate ways. We have to look closely at our kids and to see their passions, their distresses, what excites them, what they struggle with. In this manner and only in this manner will we raise the next generation each in their own particular contribution to Judaism and the Jewish community. Only in this way will every child feel comfortable and excited by their Avodat Hashem.

A second point here which should not be understated in today's religious climate, is that Rav Hirsch understands that we need many different personality types, many professions and temperaments to make Am Yisrael. We are not supposed to all act/dress the same!

I imagine that in the 19th Century, in a world which had pre-designated ideas about class, occupation and social standing, Hirsch's thoughts were revolutionary and indeed desperately needed. Indeed, I feel that in many of today's educational environments, and in a world with post-modernist awareness, this message has been accepted and absorbed. We fully accept that each child needs unique challenges and care, and personal guidance. I do think however, that in today's world, there is also the opposite danger; that in an effort to assist each child develop their distinct talents and to maximise their potential, we can at times fall into the trap of overdoing it. We also need to teach children that there are times for conformity and community, that sometimes one simply needs to buckle to the system. The student or child is not always the centre of the universe. This also assists children in finding their place in the world.

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