Parshat Toldot: Genesis 25:19-28:9; Malachi 1:1-2:7.
Since I spend part of each day working as a child psychologist, I find the Book of Bereshit, with its emphasis on family interactions, particularly interesting.
I often look at this first book of the Torah as a compilation of case studies on parent-child relationships. Often, the interactions between the family members in this volume appear to be examples of dysfunctional relationships. However, we should be able to learn as much from our mistakes as we do from our successes. What are some of the lessons and principles that we can derive from the patriarchal stories of Toldot?
• Just because two children have the same mother and father in the same household does not mean they will behave in similar ways. Esau and Jacob were fraternal twin brothers raised by the same parents at the same time.
• But Esau was impulsive. He had a short attention span and he required that his needs be met immediately. While Jacob could stay in the tent, Esau had to be on the move in the field. Classic Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
• Consistent parenting is important. It is vital that mothers and fathers communicate their child-rearing intentions. It is important they 1) use similar child-rearing techniques and 2) treat each child similarly to the extent possible and 3) that they support each other. Rebecca preferred Jacob, and Isaac preferred Esau. Their different approaches to their children led to extreme problems.
• Sibling rivalry is normal but can be carried to extremes when children vie for the love and attention of their parents. Jacob and Esau fought with each other from infancy. Jacob later tricked Esau out of the birthright. Later, he tricked Esau out of his father’s blessing to gain his mother’s favor.
• Children learn how to behave by observing the behavior of important others. Rebecca’s brother Laban was a trickster. Rebecca later encouraged Jacob to trick his father by dressing up as Esau. Finally, Jacob married into Rebecca’s trickster family and was eventually tricked and lied to by his own children.
• Communication is essential. Here, however, no more than two family members are “on stage” at the same time.
• Childhood trauma can be intense, but healing is possible. Esau was so angry with Jacob he threatened to kill him. But years later, the now successful men were able to reconcile.
Bereshit continues to be one of the most read books of the Bible. Perhaps that is because its characters, our ancestors, had to struggle and deal with many of the same family-related issues that continue to face us today. May their lives and stories continue to show us the paths to be taken.
Rabbi Mitch Parker is the rabbi at B’nai Israel Synagogue in West Bloomfield.