Mount Everest blindfolded, a three-minute mile, a Mars landing — they are all a piece of cake compared to raising emotionally healthy children.
Yet, going against conventional wisdom and everything you heard on Sesame Street, this week’s Torah portion drops the proverbial bomb about parenting: There is nothing quite like unhealthy environments to help raise healthy children.
Rashi, the pre-eminent Torah commentator, tells us that even though both Isaac and Rebecca were righteous, Isaac was nevertheless greater because Rebecca was raised in the home of evil people, while Isaac was raised by righteous people (Genesis 25:21). Rashi is not saying that because Isaac came from a better home, he was greater than Rebecca. It’s not because Isaac came from the home of Abraham that he was righteous — it was in spite of it!
Let me explain with a parable. Which child is going to find it easier to be financially successful: one raised by Bill Gates, or one raised in abject poverty? Intuitively, we would answer the former, but we would be wrong.
It’s hard to make it on your own and achieve your own success when you come from a legacy family. If the son of Bill Gates becomes a “Bill Gates” in his own right, not only did he achieve something remarkable but he actually achieved something greater than the Bill Gates who was never the son of a Bill Gates!
It’s true, the child of a Bill Gates will have a lot of money, but achieving real success is much more than that. How does the son of Bill Gates overcome a challenge? How does he find a challenge? How does he chart a new course and how does he find his own success? Growing up in abject poverty, at least the path upward is more obvious.
For Isaac to be righteous in his own right required such strength of character that he was greater than Rebecca, who was raised by the proverbial worse. You will be hard-pressed to find children of highly successful people who achieve success themselves. Otherwise, where are the fourth-generation Shakespeares or Chopins?
It’s the cosmic paradox — you spend your whole life creating a world for your children so they don’t have the challenges you had, only to find out that it is almost impossible for them to appreciate how good they have it without those challenges.
I know a lot of parents try to shield their progeny from the evils of this world (I do it too), but they should recognize that the biggest challenge for children raised in a good environment is to meet, let alone surpass, the example of their families.
This article was originally published in Kol HaBirah: Voice of the Capital and appears here with permission.