Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Once upon a time, we used to measure ourselves by comparing ourselves to our classmates. I remember who was queen of the class, for example, and who was the outstanding athlete. We were just a few more than thirty kids to a class. Today in the era of social media, your "class" is infinite and includes the whole world. There will always be someone more beautiful, smarter, and more successful than you. Comparing ourselves to others only tires us out, since we will never be the best.
During the last few Torah portions, there is plenty of seemingly superfluous detail. After Akeidat Yizchak (the binding of Yitzchak) in parashat Vayeira, we are told about the sons that were born to Nahor, the brother of Avraham. At the end of parashat Chayei Sarah, we are given the names of the twelve princely sons of Yishmael. And at the end of parashat Vayishlach that we just read on Shabbat, we learn the names of the descendants of Esav -- family heads or chiefs, as well as kings.
Rabbi Itamar Haykin says that there is a profound lesson to be learned here: Our patriarchs and matriarchs are continually tested by what they see around them. While they struggle to make sure that a single son will follow in their footsteps, even while facing the challenge of being unsettled while wandering from place to place, each of them sees offspring of their wayward descendants who are well-established with large families and even kingdoms.
This is not an easy test: to see the success of others without becoming confused, without deviating from our path, without compromising our values. The grass tends to look greener on the other side. It may be difficult to remain steadfast in our values when viewing others' enormous success, even when that success relies on a lifestyle foreign to our own, but this is the only way of staying faithful to ourselves and to the truth.
Therefore, Rabbi Haykin says, particularly in our generation, we need to remind ourselves each year of our ancestors' tests. They taught us not to despair in the face of the glittery successes of others but rather to focus on our mission which has eternal meaning. In the end their struggles and mission prevailed for eternity.
May we all find success in fulfilling the unique mission that is ours alone.