Parshat Toldot narrates the story of the rivalry between Jacob and Esau. The Torah states that Isaac loved Esau and Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, loved Jacob. As the story develops, we are told that when Isaac became old, he wanted to bestow his blessings onto his favorite son, Esau. He instructed Esau to go to the field and prepare venison. When Esau would return with the prepared venison in his hands, Isaac would bless him. Rebecca overheard the directives of Isaac to Esau, and instructed her son Jacob to dress up and pretend to be his brother Esau in order to steal the blessings. In the dramatic encounter between Jacob and Isaac, Isaac bestowed the blessings intended for Esau, on Jacob, ostensibly believing that it was Esau, and not Jacob, who was the recipient of his blessings.

Our sages wrestle with this entire scenario. Did Isaac really know whom he was giving the blessings to? Did his son Jacob deceive him? Was Jacob correct in disguising himself as Esau and stealing the blessings? Did the fact that Rebecca took responsibility for Jacob’s actions, exonerate Jacob of his misdeed?

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One point however is clear, Jacob, because he beguiled his father, was punished numerous times during his lifetime. He was fooled by his father in law, Lavan, into marrying Leah and not her sister, Rachel, whom he loved. Jacob’s children deceived him by stating that Joseph had been killed. Lavan deceived him by denying and withholding his true wages. It seems that no matter what interpretation we accept, the simple interpretation is that Almighty G-d did not accept the actions of Jacob in stealing the blessings, and repaid him measure for measure.

There is a lesson that can be derived from this. Ultimately each and every one of us is responsible for our own actions. Children who offer excuses such as “my parents gave me permission”, or parents who insist “my child would never do that” do not absolve them from responsibility. We are all answerable for our own actions. Parents must understand that there are times that we defend our kids but there are also times that we punish them and hold them accountable for their actions.

I recall reading an article focusing on this very point. In brief it told a story of two students who committed the “most reprehensible, embarrassing and unconscionable acts”. The students were eventually expelled from the school that they were attending, but the reactions of the parents were quite divergent.

One set of parents accepted the punishment meted out onto their child. They realized that, ultimately, their child did something reprehensible and deserved the punishment that he got. The other set of parents refused to accept the fact that their son did something wrong and began litigation against the school for the action that it took.

When I was growing up, if I would return home one day from school and tell my parents that I got into trouble, they rarely blamed the school, at least not in my presence. I was always held responsible! If we send our kids to a school that we believe looks out for their well-being, then when things get tough and our kids do something wrong it is usually not the school that is at fault, but the child. Parents must accept the fact that if we hope to develop responsible adults, we must first teach responsibility to our children and hold them accountable when they do something wrong. A child who misbehaves deserves to be disciplined!

When we hear horrendous stories of Jewish schools that become the venue of drug busts, or when we read of students, who are studying in a Yeshiva abroad, caught dealing with drugs, or drinking in the local bars, we must stop blaming the schools for our inadequacies! The ones to blame are the children themselves as well as their parents! Excuses and rationalizations are a detriment to developing responsible adults. We must give children the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and accept consequences for their actions.

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Rabbi Mordechai Weiss has been involved in Jewish education for the past forty-six years, serving as principal of various Hebrew day schools. He has received awards for his innovative programs and was chosen to receive the coveted Outstanding Principal award from the National Association of Private Schools. He now resides in Israel and is available for speaking engagements. Contact him at ravmordechai@aol.com or 914-368-5149.