Do as I Do, Not As I Say

Following the episode of Yaakov getting Eisav’s brachah, Yaakov escapes to Padan Aram to find a wife. The verse tells us that Eisav, too, wanted to find a wife from within the family: “And Eisav saw that the Canaanite women were evil, in the eyes of Yitzchack his father… and he took Machalat, the daughter of Yishmael… as a wife” (28:8-9). While we typically see Eisav in a negative light it seems as though -in this instance- that he acted with a higher sense of morality to choose his spouse. But how did he know? What did he “see” that made him realize the wickedness of the Canaanite women?

 

Rashi explains that what he saw was what the pesukim immediately preceding described: “Eisav saw that Yitzchack blessed Yaakov and sent him to Padan Aram for a wife and instructed him not to take a Canaanite women as a wife. And Yaakov listened to his father and mother and went to Padan Aram” (28:6-7). Rav Moshe Feinstein asks, was it not enough for Eisav to have heard that it’s not good to marry a Canaanite woman? Why must the verse also interlude with the fact that Yaakov listened and actually went to Padan Aram? Just say that Eisav heard that Yitzchack said it was bad, and that Eisav went to marry Machalat!

 

Rav Moshe explains that without seeing the fulfillment of an instruction one is much less motivated. Perhaps Eisav would say, ‘I know Dad would prefer a non-Canaanite woman, but maybe he won’t be against me marrying one’. Instead, when Yaakov actualizes the command, he concretizes the importance of fulfilling the instruction.

 

Most people know what the right thing to do is in most situations. The difficulty lies in having models of doing those appropriate thing. Once we see that it can be done -that it should be done- there’s no escaping it’s relevancy and its incumbency for us to do it ourselves. Similarly, it doesn’t matter how many times we tell our children to daven or learn, if we don’t do it ourselves they probably won’t either. It doesn’t matter how much we stress the importance of speaking kindly to our friends, family, or strangers, unless we do it too. Leaving aside the inconsistency of one’s words and one’s actions, pragmatically, our children, students, and peers are much more  influenced to do as we do, not as we say.