There are twelve Torah portions in the book of
Genesis. The last four of them (about
one third of the book) are mainly the story of Joseph – the favored son of the
aging Jacob and his beloved, late wife Rachel.
Jacob loved Joseph more than all his sons, even more than the younger
Benjamin. Because of this favoritism,
and Joseph’s habit of telling his father about any misbehavior by his brothers,
they hated him and could not speak to him in peace (see Genesis 37:2-4). The Talmud
(Shabbat 10b) uses this story to
teach that a parent should not single out a child. It is evident, however, that the Torah considers such favoritism as a
natural, though not necessarily desirable, attitude: Abraham preferred Isaac
In the Biblical stories these sibling rivalries have their own Divine destinies, within the larger scheme of national evolution. Thus, some commentaries and Kabalistic texts explain and justify these behaviors by Abraham, Isaac-Rebecca and Jacob, on the basis of their spiritual foresight, as history can attest in hindsight. In this context, the teaching of the Talmud is not in contradiction with their conduct; theirs was the exception.
Joseph was seventeen years
old when his brothers sold him. He
became a slave, was accused of a crime that he did not commit, spent years in
jail – the classical story of a spoiled youngster who lost his cushioned world
and had all the reasons to be consumed by bitterness and rage. And now, more than twenty years later, after
all his sufferings, those brothers are in front of him, in
We may not understand all the ways of God, the unfolding of events in the long run, the time scale of generations beyond us. That does not mean that the plan does not exist. If we attempt to see the larger picture, with faith, we can elevate ourselves to higher levels of optimism and trust. Just as Abraham did, for a covenant that took about 400 years to materialize, and as Joseph did through his years of exile. These special people, the optimists, are the true role models to follow.
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