Rebecca Masinter

Parshas Toldos - Growth Mindset

In the beginning of Parshas Toldos, the twins Yaakov and Eisav are born. Eisav’s name is from the word עשוי, meaning made or finished, reflecting his mature physical features. Yaakov’s name connotes the word עקב, heel, as he was born grasping Eisav’s heel. These names don’t only reflect their physical traits, but spiritual ones as well. Eisav’s philosophy in life was one of “עשו, “I’m finished, I’m done growing. Whatever I am today is what I will always be. I have no future anyway so why would I ever want the bechora?” Yaakov, however, always saw himself as at the heel of life, at the bottom of a growth trajectory, which he strived to climb day in and day out throughout his life. Yaakov knew that even if he had nothing today, tomorrow he could become שתי מחנות. An Eisav worldview is one of complacency and acceptance of today’s experience as tomorrow’s reality. There is no hope of change and no struggle to change. Yaakov, on the other hand, sees today as only a tiny start, a small step on the ladder of life. He is always struggling, always growing, always changing. In Parshas Vayishlach Yaakov received another name after he struggled and prevailed in the fight with the malach. The malach gave him the name “Yisrael” כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹקים וְעִם־אֲנָשִׁ֖ים וַתּוּכָֽל, because you struggled against angel and people, and you prevailed.” One would expect his name to reflect the word וַתּוּכָֽל, you prevailed! After all, that’s what was so noticeable about this encounter. But instead, the name “Yisrael” comes from the word, שָׂרִ֧ית, “you struggled, you wrestled”. Yaakov isn’t about the final success, he’s about the struggle to get there. Yaakov is all about the process, growth, change, never about the final product. The Yaakov attitude is at the heart of a Jew’s life. We don’t believe that we are locked into today’s reality or must accept today’s limited position as a given. We are forward thinking, always seeing hope, and working towards a beautiful future. When raising children, this quality becomes very obvious and incredibly important. We have to remember that a stage is just a stage; our children are works in progress who are constantly growing and changing. Today’s limits, today’s struggles are just part of the process of maturation. Feeling stuck has no place in our families. When we’re in the middle of a challenging phase it’s easy to forget that this is temporary, but the message from Yaakov is to see ourselves always at the heel, always climbing higher and higher. We, and our children, keep putting one foot in front of the other, we keep striving, we keep building, and one day at a time we grow. Our job is to share this mindset with our children. Our kids pick up on labels and limitations, and they sometimes believe they are defined by them. “I’m not good at learning”, “I’m irresponsible”, “I’m disruptive”, and more. We want to be the voice that reminds our children that today’s struggles lead to tomorrow’s victories. None of us are limited to today’s reality . There is no magic moment when we pass or fail life, rather until the day we die we are in process, winning some, losing some, but always changing, always growing. We can all use this reminder that life isn’t static. However rough today was, tomorrow can be better. Both names, Yaakov and Yisrael, remind us to embrace growth, focus on the process of development, and never succumb to the static fatalism of Eisav. This is a message for all of us, mothers who sometimes feel stuck in a difficult stage of parenting or life, and for us to share with our children who need to be reminded that today’s mistakes are the stepping stones to tomorrow’s growth. Each moment is a new opportunity for transcendance.