In two Hebrew words the text compresses the years of childhood development into a matter of size: “The youths grew” (Genesis 25:27). Readers gain no insights into the personalities of Esav and Jacob, their hopes and dreams, how their failures or achievements affected their outlook, what made them happy or unhappy, which friends they made or how they spent their time. Readers only know the outcome: Esav became an outdoorsman and skillful hunter while Jacob followed more sedentary pursuits.
The question with which readers are confronted is how can two twins raised in the same household with the same parents in the same location end up so different? Anne Frank, in some ways wiser than her years would indicate, once observed: “Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” Whatever Esav or Jacob observed in the home or learned from their father and mother contributed to their character but was not determinant of their character.
RaShI even asserts that in their early years, Esav and Jacob were practically indistinguishable from each other. Citing a midrash (B.R. 63:10), RaShI writes: So long as they were young, they could not be distinguished by what they did and no one paid much attention to their characters, but when they reached the age of thirteen, one went his way to the houses of learning and the other went his way to the idolatrous temples. RaShI’s offspring (Da’at Zekenim L’Ba’alei HaTosafot) draws an analogy: “The matter can be compared to thorn bushes growing up next to myrtles. Until they have developed, they look alike and neither emits any fragrance. After a while, the fragrance emitted from the myrtle distinguishes it drastically from the thorns of the thorn bushes.”
A wise man once said that parents are not an anchor to hold you down or a sail to get you there but a lighthouse to show you the way. The essential lesson is that as important as what a person learns from his or her parents is, in the final analysis, what counts is what a person does with it.