Shabbat Vayehiy

Candles Friday 13th January 4:31pm
Havdalah 14th 5:27pm

Favoritism runs through the Book of Bereishit. You might say it started with God preferring Abel’s sacrifice to Cain’s. God preferring Noah to all the rest. Then Abraham favors Isaac. Isaac favors Esau. Rebecca favors Jacob. Jacob favors Joseph and this week Jacob favors Efraim over Menashe. And the consequences played out over the next 1000 years of Jewish history as the tribes argued and fought, split into two rival states until eventually they merged under the tribe of Judah, to become Jews ( as well as Children of Israel).

The Torah seems to be ambiguous about favoritism. On the one hand, it supports meritocracy, finding the best person for the job. On the other hand, it favors heredity, emphasizing tribal differences, choosing a specific tribe to become priests and later a specific family to provide kings. On the meritocratic level Jews as identified through their mothers as all equal and potential leaders. Anyone can get to the top. On the tribal level as identified through fathers, they provide aristocracies of kings and priests. Only those born to it can lead. This dichotomy runs through the history of mankind.

There are many examples of where the Torah gives alternative possibilities for actions and for models of leadership. Just as the Torah allows for exceptions under extreme conditions to preserve one’s life. Or even though hating violence, it allows for self-defense and even warfare despite detesting taking human life.

People often think the Torah and Jewish Law is rigid. It might be strict and demanding but it usually offers different legal positions and opportunities. That is why there is so much debate in Jewish Law. It is not monolithic or black and white and does indeed allow for many variations. No single approach answers every scenario.