When we hear the term "twins," we often think of two things that are alike -- twin beds, twin turbo engines, etc. However, as the father of twins (who happen to turn ten-years-old today), I can attest to the fact that twins are most certainly quite different from one another.
I'm not talking about the identical twin brothers who have been in the news recently. It's obvious to everyone that these German twins who were separated at birth with one being raised Jewish and the other as a member of Hitler Youth were diametrically different. I'm referencing two humans emerging from the same womb who we might think are very similar, but in actuality are very different from one another. What lessons can we learn from this.
This past Shabbat morning in synagogues around the world, we read about the birth of twin boys to parents Isaac and Rebecca. For the first time the Torah goes into great detail about childbirth, even describing the babies in utero. These two boys, the first twins of the biblical narrative, emerge as polar opposites. The older, Esau, was born hairy, while his younger womb-mate, Jacob, was smooth.
The rabbis, in their commentaries (midrash) about these two interesting characters, go to great lengths to show their differences. They characterize Jacob as a kind, gentle and studious individual who spent most of his time in the tents of study. While Esau, by contrast, is described as an idler and hunter, a man of violence who lived by his strength and conquest. In essence, Esau was a bully of a kid who was rough and tough, while the younger Jacob was a mild-mannered nerd. The rabbis of old even went so far as to create stories about Esau's murdering, idolatrous and womanizing ways.
Their parents were not fooled by the fact they were twins. Both Isaac and Rebecca knew full well how different their twin boys were. Jacob favored Esau because he liked the taste of meat and appreciated that this hunter would provide his supper. Rebecca loved her "momma's boy" more and was willing to deceive to ensure it was the younger Jacob who became the the progenitor of the Jewish people.
The homiletic treatment of these twin brothers has been extensive. Each character has come to symbolize conflicting dimensions of power and authority. They have been made into archetypes of good and evil. They both struggle throughout their lives -- Jacob struggles with God, while Esau struggles with animals. So too, they struggle with each other (beginning in the waters of the womb and continuing by the waters of a river). They also struggle with themselves internally.
There are many lessons we can learn from the fascinating narrative of Jacob and Esau, but one paramount lesson is that twins are different. All children, of course, are unique and require different approaches when it comes to parenting, education, discipline and encouragement. But, lest we think that twins should be treated similarly because they emerged into this world together, we should be cautious to recall the lesson of Jacob and Esau. Each child is unique, even if they spent nine months together before birth.