Valuing Differences

It is important to see the value in Esau as well as Jacob.

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Did Esau Have ADD?

Some, like our colleague and teacher Dr. Ora Prouser, see marked touches of ADD/ADHD-hyperactivity/attention deficit disorder in Esau's impulsiveness and inability to sit still for very long. Notice how the boys' parents react: Isaac favors Esau's manual labor, outdoors, hands-on life style,while Rebekah clearly prefers the scholar, the son who is school-wise and excels in the academy.

So often we as parents tend to immediately value Jacob's talents over Esau's. We are socialized into a culture that values book learning above all else. But not all of our children are verbal learners. Those who are not, often get the message that they are less valuable, less cherished than the scholar.

There have been many times when I have seen parents grieve when the psycho-educational testing reveals severe learning differences or deficits in young children. I have seen parents unwilling to accept their children's strengths and weaknesses, instead blaming the teacher or the school for their problems. I have watched countless parents struggle with issues of school placement for children, because they want to treat all their children equally, fairly.

And here is where Lavoie's wisdom intersects with our parashah. Fairness is giving our children what they each individually need, not in treating them all the same way. Rabbinic tradition unfortunately demonizes Esau, identifying him first with our enemy Edom, then Rome, while it glorifiesJacob as the paean of pupil excellence setting up an unhealthy dichotomy and inappropriate stereotype for how we value our children and their needs. One child may do very well in a day school setting, but another sibling may be better off in an alternative educational milieu. Sure, it's more convenient to have all our kids in one school, but is it fair to each of our children to sacrifice one for the needs of the other by setting the standard of fairness as meaning that all our children must do the same thing in the same way?

Alternative Means of Jewish Education

The epic struggle of Jacob and Esau to develop self esteem and individuality is paradigmatic for the way we treat each of our children. This also may mean that we need to strive mightily to provide alternative means of access to Jewish learning for the wide variety of talents and intelligences different children bring to their Jewish school experiences.

We have our Esaus and our Jacobs, and we must provide experiences that value both types of learners if we are to capitalize on the multiple strengths our children can contribute to the Jewish people. Esau's way of apprehending and encountering the world is no less relevant to his spiritual development than Jacob's approach.

May we as educators and parents have the wisdom to value our children's differences and show our fairness by meeting each person's individual needs. Ironically, as I sit here at my computer keyboard composing this essay, listening to the plumber fix my humidifier, I wonder which one of us knows better the path to the living God?

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Steven M. Brown

Steven M. Brown is dean of The William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education and Director of the Melton Center for Jewish Education.