Nature, Nurture, or Choice?

Nature, Nurture, or Choice?
Two boys fighting, painting by John Phillip

For the first half of their lives, Jacob and Esau do not get along. How did they become so difficult? Heredity or environment? Nature or nurture?

Perhaps it’s just their nature. Rebecca, mother of Jacob and Esau, pegs their personalities before they are even born. She can tell by the way they kick each other inside her womb that they will be combative children, at odds with one another.

Or perhaps it’s a matter of nurture. It starts in their family of origin. Their mother Rebecca favors Jacob. But their father Isaac favors Esau. No wonder the boys grow up fighting over who gets the blessing from Mom and Dad.

Still, in middle age, Jacob and Esau reconcile. How do they learn to be forgiving? How do they move beyond their early programming? And then consciously choose a better life? Both seem to learn lessons in their family of choice. Esau sees the pain that his first marriage causes his parents. So, he decides to make a wiser second choice. Jacob marries into a manipulative family. He sees what it’s like to be the victim. So, after wrestling with himself, he chooses to heal his relationship with Esau.

Torah recognizes that a parent’s legacy, good or bad, can last four generations. But Torah also recognizes that human development is lifelong! From bar mitzvah to old age, each person has the opportunity to reflect, understand, and choose the good.

For more perspectives on Parshat Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9) click here

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