(Un)Conditional Love

Isaac and Rebekah provide us with two models of parenting--love dependent on a specific interaction and love that is unconditional.

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Tragedy Or Salvation?

Might this have been Esav's tragedy, and Jacob's salvation? The kind of love that Esav experienced from his father may well have locked him into a certain way of behaving. He was loved for his persona of hunter, the man of action, the man who brings home the venison, and so that is who he must be. Is it not a straight line from this narrow perception of who Esav is and what he can do to Isaac's death-bed blessing to Esav--"you shall live by your sword," which locks Esav, forever, into a very specific way of being in the world?

And is it not Rebekah's unconditional love for Jacob, the love that some contemporary thinkers would have us believe does not really exist, which frees him to be whatever he must be, to be whoever he wants to be, and which even gives him, at his father's deathbed, the ability, at his mother's urging, to "be" Esav, and wrest his blessing--the blessing of the first born--away from him, and take it for himself?

All Esav can be is Esav; Rebekah's unconditional love for Jacob enables him to be anything, and to thereby gain ascendancy over his poor, limited brother. The fact that all Esav ever got was his father's appreciation of a certain kind of behavior, and was denied the kind of unconditional, unlimited love that his mother gave to Jacob, made him who he was.

The fact that Jacob was loved unconditionally by his mother gives him the strength to be many things, as we see in the climactic moments of this week's parsha, and as we will see in the stories we will read in the weeks to come about the rest of Jacob's life.

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.