The Torah in 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. 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 planned to bless him. Rebecca overheard Isaac’s directives to Esau, and instructed Jacob to dress up and pretend to be his brother Esau and obtain the blessings.
In the dramatic encounter between Jacob and Isaac, Isaac bestowed the blessings intended for Esau on Jacob, ostensibly believing it to be Esau who was receiving the blessings and not Jacob.
Our Sages wrestle with this entire scenario. Did Isaac really know to whom he was giving the blessings? 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 him?
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 instead of her sister Rachel whom he loved. Jacob’s children deceived him by telling him that his beloved son Joseph had been killed. Lavan deceived him by denying and withholding his true wages. Indeed, from a simple reading of the text of the Torah, it seems 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’s excuses such as “my parents gave me permission” or parents’ insistence that “my child would never do that” do not absolve them from responsibility. We are all answerable for our behavior. Parents must understand that there are times that we must defend our kids but there are also times that we must punish them and hold them accountable for their actions – without any excuses.
I recall reading an article focusing on this very point. In brief, it told a story of two students who had 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 to their child. They realized that ultimately their child had done something reprehensible and deserved to suffer the consequences. But the other set of parents refused to accept the fact that their son had done something wrong and began litigation against the school for the action it had taken.
When I was growing up, if I would return home one day from school and tell my parents that I had gotten into trouble, they would rarely blame 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 we should not automatically blame the school when our child gets in trouble. 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 drugs or drinking in local bars, we should not blame the schools. The ones to blame are the students themselves and the parents. We must give our children the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and to accept the consequences for their actions.
G-d held Jacob responsible for his actions. Jacob committed a wrong despite his following instructions from his mother. If G-d demanded accountability, then we must demand it as well!