How Is Your Family? Speaking About Our Challenging Children©

How Is Your Family? Speaking About Our Challenging Children©
Parashat Toledot – Rabbi David Baum

I want to ask you a question – how is your family? When people ask you, how is your family, how do you answer them?

Do we answer the question honestly? Like, for example, “well, my 30-year-old son is so reflective and driven – he's so reflective that he meditates on my couch all day while also intensely playing video games.” Or, “my daughter, she's so artistic and creative, in fact, she just got her 30th tattoo, this one on her neck and face!” Are we that honest? No, we aren't.

I want to talk about the son and daughter who don't hit the milestones that their peers hit – because they are different. Today, I want to talk about Eisav – the son or daughter whom we don't talk about when we are asked, how is your family?

But first, I wanted to take a detailed look at Eisav. Who was Eisav? The rabbis do not look kindly upon Eisav – he ranges from the hunter who is obsessed with food, and cannot control his impulses, to the father of Rome and Christianity – and let's just say, the rabbis weren't big fans of either at the time. Even in the womb, God tells Rebecca that these two babies who are battling in the womb, “Two nations are in your womb, Two separate peoples shall issue from your body; One people shall be mightier than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.” We know from their very beginning that this is a national story. But the Torah has many layers. Even though this is the story of two nations, it begins as the story of two boys.

So taking away what we know about who Eisav will become, who is the Eisav we meet in this story?

I learned something new this week from a book called Esau's Blessing: How the Bible embraces those with Special Needs. In the book, Ora Horn Prouser lays out the case that Eisav is actually a boy who has ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Isaac and Rebecca have

וַֽיִּגְדְּלוּ֙ הַנְּעָרִ֔ים וַיְהִ֣י עֵשָׂ֗ו אִ֛ישׁ יֹדֵ֥עַ צַ֖יִד אִ֣ישׁ שָׂדֶ֑ה וְיַעֲקֹב֙ אִ֣ישׁ תָּ֔ם יֹשֵׁ֖ב אֹהָלִֽים׃
When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp.

The commentators look at the identity of Eisav being a 'Ish Yodeah Zayid' (a skillful hunter) as a negative – that he was full of deception, but Prouser offers a different interpretation – she says, “Eisav prefers to be outside and physically active, as opposed to his brother, Jacob, who spends his time sitting in the tent. She goes on to say that many traits that people with ADHD and ADD have are also the same traits that make one an excellent hunter: a hunter needs to focus on his prey and at the same time, attuned to any movement around him. If we look at Eisav with this in mind, then some of the other stories where he is looked at in a negative light seem to make sense. He is impulsive, he often times cannot control his emotions. Remember when he sells Yakov his birthright? Right after he does it, the Torah says the following:

וְיַעֲקֹ֞ב נָתַ֣ן לְעֵשָׂ֗ו לֶ֚חֶם וּנְזִ֣יד עֲדָשִׁ֔ים וַיֹּ֣אכַל וַיֵּ֔שְׁתְּ וַיָּ֖קָם וַיֵּלַ֑ךְ וַיִּ֥בֶז עֵשָׂ֖ו אֶת־הַבְּכֹרָֽה׃ (ס)
Jacob then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; he ate and drank, and he rose and went away. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright.

His actions, a series of fast verbs show his impulsivity and his distractibility.
How is your family? How many of us only tell the story of the boy who sits nicely in his seat – he gets his work done, who fits in. Do we tell the story of the other child?

The story of Eisav is also the story of the child who we had dreams for, but those dreams are never realized.

I wanted to share a story that I heard about Major General Doron Almog. Let me give you a short biography of Doron Almog. Doron Almog was the first para-reconaissance commander to land on the runway at Entebbe, marking it for incoming Israeli airplanes, and leading the capture of the airfield’s control tower in the stunning rescue operation of 1976, he participated in the clandestine airlift of some 6,000 Jews from Ethiopia to Israel in the eighties.

And in his most recent post, as head of Southern Command from 2000-2003, he foiled every single attempt by terrorists from the Gaza Strip to infiltrate Israel. I recently heard the noted author Daniel Silva speak who said that main character of his books, Gabriel Allon, is basically Doron Almog. I recently heard him speak, and before he spoke, he received an incredible introduction highlighting all of the accomplishments I just mentioned, and you are expecting a guy to come up to speak about Entebbe, or the Gaza war, or some other unbelievable thing. But he didn't. He spoke about his toughest mission in life – raising his son Eran.

He told the story of when his son was born, he and his wife had the kind of expectations all parents have – that their boy would be successful, even more successful than his parents – a rising military star and school principal – had been. It quickly became apparent that that was not to be. Doctors told the couple that Eran had significant brain-damage.

He said, “There were friends who advised us to send him away, I think the most significant decision we made was to raise him, love him and never be ashamed of him.” He elaborated telling us,, “In Entebbe, we had to fly 2,600 miles, kill the terrorists, free the hostages and fly back home. In a military mission the goals are very clearly defined. If you complete all the steps from A to Z, the mission is a success. But with Eran, Step A is endless, and it’s not clear how you even define ‘success.'” He talked about doing the little errands many of us take for granted, especially for a child who doesn't speak or respond:
When I take him to the dentist I need to tie him to the chair. When we buy him new shoes we have to figure out whether they are comfortable or not for him. Eran depends on us to decipher his needs, speak for him, and be his link with the world.”

He told us the following: “Raising Eran has made me a better human being. By constantly being forced to ask myself what he needs, I became a more sensitive person, more attuned to those with limitations.”

Eran led Doron Almog to become a leader of the organization Aleh, which houses severly disabled adults and children – I visited the largest of the facilities in the Negev, and it might have been the most inspiring place in Israel I've seen, more inspiring than battle fields and military museums.

Finally, he ended by quoting Ghandi, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

If we look at Eisav through this lens, the lens not of a warrior, but a child who needs special attention, we see what Isaac does for him. If we take a look at Genesis 27:3 – 4 – he says, “Take your gear, your quiver and bow, and go out into the open and hunt me some game.” Ora Prouser points something out I never noticed, “Isaac's directions are excessive. Why is it necessary to itemize Esau's weapons and tell him to collect them prior to hunting? Wouldn't a skilled hunter know what to do? Would he leave without his weapons? We see here that Isaac knows his son – he knows his limitations. He has learned how to speak to him, and how to help his son succeed.


So how is your family? We live in a time of TMI – too much information. We definitely share too much – like what we ate for dinner last night, our thoughts on everything political, but maybe, just maybe, it's time to start sharing the stories of the Eisav's in our lives with those around us, not strangers, but friends. And not only can we share the 'oys' we experience, but the joys. The joys of having a child who is a ball of energy; the joys of a child who truly loves life despite the limitations they have in front of them – the child who may not achieve the dreams that their parents had for them in the wound, but achieve much greater things. A child who can teach us things about life and resilience that no one else can.  

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