There’s an old wives’ tale that a man’s hair pattern (i.e. baldness) can be predicted by the hair of his mother’s brother. The genetic veracity of this claim is debatable, but, according to the opinion of the Talmudic sage Raba, “most [male] children [do] resemble their mother’s brothers” (Baba Batra 110a).
This seems to be an odd assertion. Modern psychology/sociology, and general life experience, would certainly disagree with such a general statement. Raba’s remark was based on his interpretation of Exodus 6:23, “Aaron [married] Elisheva, daughter of Aminadav, sister of Nachshon.” Since the mention of Nachshon appears superfluous, Raba opined that the Torah was teaching that “He who [wishes] to take a wife should inquire into her brothers.”
Is this just an old superstition? There are many statements in the Talmud that seem to be random, but at their heart there is true wisdom. The lesson Raba is presenting is that most people are a reflection of their family. People who are dating usually put on their best faces. A person’s siblings, however, often reflect a more honest image of the family’s underlying values and ethics.
And remember, the statement in the Talmud is advice only.
The story of Jacob and Esau both validates and invalidates Raba’s statement. Jacob and Esau were twins whose lives and personalities were polar opposites. Whereas Jacob is known as a tzadik (righteous person), Esau is known as a rasha (wicked person). Who was their mother’s brother? Laban, a notorious con-man and crook.
Laban’s bad character is a possible explanation for how two righteous people, Isaac and Rebecca, could produce a son like Esau. Certainly, Esau’s oppositional personality is an interesting study for the modern day conversation regarding “nurture” verses “nature.”
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