Shabbat Toldot

Mevarchin Rosh Hodesh Kislev
Candles Friday 21st November 4.13pm
Havdalah 22nd 5.10pm

Here’s a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest “ Good wombs have borne bad sons.” I can’t think of a more apposite quote for this week’s Torah reading. Rivkah our saintly mother produced twins, one good, Yaakov, and the other bad “Esav.” Both had the same parents, the same upbringing and yet they turned our very differently.

In Shakespeare’s day it was an argument between “Nature and Nurture.” In our day we argue as to whether the Genes or the Environment have a greater impact on how our children turn out.

There are lots of experiments that show that identical twins separated at birth still show common traits years later and conversely we have all come across families in which children turn out very differently, one disciplined and ambitious, the other lazy, indulgent and self-absorbed. And of course we have also come across families where everyone is self-motivated and others where everyone turns out to be a bum.

But was Esav such a bad guy? Sure he was a physical, passionate person, given to rash, ill-considered actions. Not the best man to lead a tribe that believed in deferring gratification and taking a longer view.

But, he was a loyal devoted son to his father, desperately wanted his blessing and only threatened to kill Yaakov after he got the blessing through subterfuge. Esav saw his parents did not like his choice of women so he tried to do better the second time round. And he and Yaakov made up in the end and both helped bury their parents. It is hard to say that Esav was completely bad person.

The moral is that you can never tell. Good parents do their best but there are never guarantees. That's so for life in general. If we do our best we will have more opportunities to succeed.

But even pious Jews at prayer, wearing talit and tefillin can still be hacked to death by barbarians as we saw in Har Nof this week. There are no guarantees. But we must still try our best.