The Dangers of Uniformity
By: הרב דוד סילברשטיין
The Dangers of Uniformity-Rabbi David Silverstein
One of the most crucial challenges facing parents and professional educators is creating alternative venues to allow different types of children to appreciate the beauty of traditional Judaism. For example, one student may be extremely inspired by the intensity of a page of Talmud while another finds the exact same discussion irrelevant and uninteresting. On the other hand, there could be children who feel religiously moved by art, drama or a Chassidic niggun while others would see these same activities as entertaining but lacking substantive religious meaning.
The tension of providing a plurality of models to attract youth towards tradition is not a new phenomenon. In fact in this week's parsha the Torah describes two very different personalities with varied learning needs. Our forefather Yaakov, is described as a scholar, and "ish tam yoshev ohalim." His brother Esav, by contrast, is defined not by his cognitive ability but rather by his physical capabilities as a man of the field ("ish yodea ish sadeh"). On the surface, it seems that these distinguishing qualities of Yaakov and Esav should have been readily apparent from an early age. However, according to Rashi (Bereishit 25:27), Yaakov and Esav were effectively indistinguishable in terms of character all the way through the age of bar mitzvah! What then caused the sudden change in their personalities after their entrance into adult manhood? According to Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (cited in Rav Baruch Simon's "Imrei Boruch") the dramatic shift in behavior on behalf of Yaakov and Esav was the direct result of the poor pedagogy that they received in the house of their father Yitzchak! Rav Hirsch argues that Yitzchak was unable to recognize the uniqueness of each of his children during their childhood years. As a result, his educational approach was monolithic. His transition of the tradition was exclusively intellectual and it only resonated with his more intellectually gifted son, Yaakov. Esav however, felt abandoned. As much as he tried, he was unable to connect to the tradition passed down to him by his father. Therefore, the moment he entered adulthood after bar mitzvah, he rejected the mesorah of Avraham and Yitzchak and embraced a life of hunting, violence and idolatry. Had Yitzchak recognized and embraced Esav's strengths, he would have been able to cater the tradition that he loved so dearly to suit his oldest son.
The lesson of this section of the biblical narrative is that uniqueness is a virtue that should be embraced. Some of our children will be driven and inspired by the world of the Rambam and the Raavad. Others may find their inner religious voice in song or acts of chesed. As Rav Soloveitchik states, our lives should be driven by a sense of divine mission hood. Just as no two people are the same, no two people have the same mission. The challenge for us is to ensure that commitment to observance of mitzvoth is at a premium while at the same time recognizing the unique needs of our children and ensuring that they find their own voice in the wonderful chain of our mesorah!