Parshat Toldot, Genesis 25:19-28:9
A parable told in “The Midrash Says” helps explain how the twin brothers of this week’s Torah portion could end up so very different: “A myrtle branch and a thorn bush grew side by side. As long as they had not developed and were still tender, they seemed to be identical. But once they grew to maturity, the difference between them became apparent. One produced sweet-smelling branches and the other grew thorns.”
Jacob and Esau grew up in the same household, shared their parents’ DNA and yet grew up to have personalities that were so diametrically different.
Esau became a hunter who enjoyed the chase and the kill. He rejected the monotheism of his parents and accepted the idolatry of the land of Canaan. Jacob became a scholar who loved peace and embraced the religious heritage of his family.
When they were very young, they seemed the same, like the parable of the myrtle and the thorn bush. But when they were old enough to make their own decisions, they went separate ways.
Some people say they are not responsible for their actions, because they were raised in an unhealthy environment. “It’s not my fault” they say. “I was born in this neighborhood. So if I made bad choices, I’m not to blame.”
The Torah illustrates that this is not so. We make the choices and are responsible for the outcome.
In the book “Awaken the Giant Within,” Tony Robbins writes that he has interviewed several hundred people. Among them are siblings from difficult family situations.
One sibling became a convict, while the other became a successful family man with a thriving business. When he asked the convict about the course of events that led him to prison, he answered, “With parents like mine, I had no choice.”
When he asked the businessman the same question, he also answered, “With parents like mine, I had no choice!”
We make our choices in life and bear the consequences. Hashem gives us the tools to decide. What we do with those tools is up to us.
Rabbi Eli Seidman is the director of pastoral services at the Jewish Association on Aging. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.