Shabbat Vayishlah

Candles 4:10pm Friday Dec 16th
Havdalah 5:05 Dec 17th

The Talmud tells us that we should not favor one child over another. Surely this is obvious. Of course, it is not, as this week’s reading illustrates. The Talmud was referring to Joseph’s coat of stripes or colors that marked him out from the other brothers. But really, the problem started before. With Abraham favoring Isaac and Isaac favoring Esau.

Now Jacob is returning home from Haran to face Esau who he assumes still wants to kill him. He divides his camp into different groups to face the oncoming assault. He puts the concubines and their children first, then Leah and hers and finally Rachel and Joseph. Arguing, so says the Torah, that if Esau bent on revenge, takes his anger out on the first groups, he might allow the last to survive.

Just think of the psychological damage this does. A father is prepared to sacrifice ten of his children in the hope that the other may live. No wonder they grew to resent Joseph. And their father too.

My mother always used to tell me she loved me and loved all her children equally. But even so, I always thought she preferred the younger ones. I know it was illogical. Children are illogical and so are most adults. I guess there was nothing my mother could have done or said to reassure me. But I have no doubt my younger siblings thought that I got preferential treatment as the eldest. Sometimes one can never get it right.

Different children have different strengths and weaknesses. We can validate those differences without treating them unfairly. Good parents are aware of the dangers of favoritism.

We are told to take lessons from how our biblical forbears acted, how they treated their children, for better and for worse. But In the end, we take responsibility for our actions.