The Pasuk says “ה. וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת הַנָּשִׁים וְאֶת הַיְלָדִים וַיֹּאמֶר מִי אֵלֶּה לָּךְ וַיֹּאמַר הַיְלָדִים אֲשֶׁר חָנַן אֱ־לֹהִים אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ – And he (Esau) lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and he said, “Who are these to you?” And he (Yakov) said, “The children with whom God has favored your servant.” (33:5)
Esau wasn’t a fool, he knew Yakov had his family and entourage with him. This is obvious, as he brought a small army with him to kill them all. So why then, does this conversation take the form of a chance meeting, as if it weren’t apparent who they were and what their connection to Yakov – the head of the family, was?
Clearly, there is something else afoot. The Chafetz Chaim says that Esau saw something different in these children, and he was correct for identifying this difference. They were the first Jewish children – we are Bnei Yisrael, and Yakov’s children were the first of the lot! He saw a difference in them from other children he’d encountered, and we need only look at Yishmael and Esau themselves to see how children behaved in that society, so naturally Yakov’s children owuld act differently.
The Chafetz Chaim explains that the answer to what made them different is in Yakov’s answer. He answered “אֲשֶׁר חָנַן אֱ־לֹהִים אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ – with whom God has favored your servant”. Why did it not say the normal word for giving – נתן, instead it says חָנַן. The Chafetz Chaim teaches us that there is something else to be learned here that what made these children different was the merit of חָנַן- the Roshei Teivos of the 3 Mitzvos only women can perform – חלה ,נר , נידה – the laws regarding the seperation of Challah, lighting Shabbos candles, and family purity. Yakov said within his reply to his brother what made his children special, that his wives observed these laws.
There are other interpretations of the נר part of observance, which just translates as light. The Sforno explains it to mean the light of Torah – it is a mother’s obligation to ensure her children know Torah – “v’al titosh Toras imecha“. How do we see this? There is a Gemara in Niddah which says that every baby in its mother’s womb has 2 things – an angel that teaches the baby the whole Torah, which it forgets at birth when the angel taps its lip, and a light above its head. We don’t see babies born with lights above their heads, so what does this mean? This means that the mother provided the circumstances through which the light of Torah shone on the child before its birth, and the mother is meant to nurture this “spark” into a full blown flame throughout the child’s life.
There is a short story told about R’ Yaakov Galinski and the Chazon Ish circa 1953, that explains us what the light of Torah does. They were walking together in the street at night, and were walking under streetlights. The Chazon Ish said “Wow!” every time he walked under a light, and his student, R’ Yaakov asked what was going on. The Chazon Ish obliged, and explained a phenomenal lesson. We are not meant to be arrogant people, but how does one work on this character trait if it is innate? The further away from the streetlight/light of Torah we are, the bigger your shadow appears. The closer we get to the streetlight/the light of Torah, the smaller we realise we actually are.