The Other Brother by Ruchi Koval
I have never met a mom who says, “I have two kids, and they’re both so similar!” Oh no. Usually I hear how different they are. I constantly marvel at our own progeny. No two are the same in the whole bunch. I have my introverts and extroverts, my super honest rule followers and those who think rules are a casual suggestion. I have philosophers and eye rollers. Savers and spenders. Ambitious overachievers and fun-loving coasters. It’s fascinating.
Our matriarch Rebecca, pregnant with twins in this week’s Torah portion, was confused and alarmed. She didn’t know she was having twins – all she knew was that something was seriously awry with her pregnancy. Every time she passed a house of Torah study, the fetus would become turbulent. And every time she passed a house of idol worship, the same thing would happen! What was going on with this baby? So, the Torah teaches, she sought counsel from a prophet:
“Two nations are in your belly and two peoples will from your insides separate out; a nation will overpower a nation and the great shall rule the young.”
Ouch! Imagine being told that you are going to deliver not one, but two babies, and that they will be polar opposites, constantly in conflict. That would not be easy news to hear.
And when the twins, Jacob and Esau, were born, they were absolutely different from the get-go. Jacob was a “simple man who sat in tents” and studied Torah, and Esau was a red-blooded hunter. They even looked different, with Jacob being “smooth-skinned” and Esau being hairy. It doesn’t seem fair; their relationship seems doomed from the start! Every parent, especially after waiting as long for children as Isaac and Rebecca did, wants their children to get along and be close.
The Talmud tells us some fascinating things about the brotherly relationship. It is true that one sibling was destined to be more “earthy” and the other more “ethereal.” Jacob was meant to inherit the spiritual world and Esau, the physical world. But this didn’t have to be a conflict. The two brothers could have worked in partnership and supported one another, each one benefiting from the other’s gains.
In other words, kids come out with their basic natures, and some of that is not going to change. But whether they are going to be in conflict with others, that’s up to them. If Jacob and Esau, with their extreme differences, could have done it, could have lived in harmony with their differences and enjoyed a symbiotic brotherly relationship, what an inspiring example they would have been. Unfortunately, subsequent Torah portions reveal that this Utopian relationship did not actually happen.
And perhaps this reveals one of life’s greatest truths: the sibling relationship is one of the most complicated. Brothers and sisters may fight, face competition, feel intimidated by one another, annoy one another – and also enjoy closeness, understanding and support as from no one else. Our siblings are almost like a foil for ourselves. They are a mirror that reflects back our own self-perception and insecurities. They are a backdrop for exploring the parental relationship. Siblings are there almost from the start and follow us through adulthood. They share our DNA like no one else and know more about our early years than anyone else.
If we’re lucky enough to have siblings, remember what Jacob and Esau taught: Differences are inevitable, but love and harmony are a choice.
Ruchi Koval is a JWRP Trip Leader and City Leader. She's also a musician, blogger, author, parenting coach, and lecturer. She loves to organize closets, eat doughnuts, and inspire others to live their best lives with Torah values. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband, and has seven children, and a 60 lb. golden doodle.