Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Walk Article

SIBLING RIVALRY 

Vayeishev-5779 

Rabbi David Walk 

 

Growing up, my sister and I fought a lot. It didn't matter who was right or wrong or even if there was a right and wrong. We just fought because that's what cats and dogs do, or siblings, as the case may be. Today, we're mature adults and we never fight anymore. We agree on all the important issues in life. We may disagree on the little things, like religion, politics and philosophy, but on the big stuff, perfect harmony. What's the 'big stuff', you may very well ask. Well, Boston sports teams, of course! We both root hard for the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and, sometimes, the Bruins. I even support Liverpool FC, because they're owned by the Red Sox.Tears are a sure sign that the home town team has lost. Since, the solution to world peace is so easy (Everybody roots for Boston.), it's hard to understand the constant rivalry in the book of Breishit. 

The phenomenon of sibling rivalry started, tragically, with the first set of siblings and continues throughout the first volume of the Torah. But it reaches its apex in our Torah reading. The animosity among the brothers is palpable. Our parsha begins by reporting: These are the generations of Ya'akov: Yosef was seventeen years old, being a shepherd, he was with his brothers with the flocks, he was a lad, and was with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought evil tales about them to their father. Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of his old age; and he made him a striped coat. And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak with him peacefully (Breishit 37:2-4). 

There's a lot to unpack in those three verses, which make it clear that the animosity preceded Yosef's famous dreams. A clear delineation is described in the family. It seems that there are three factions: Yosef with father, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, and the sons of Leah. It is the sons of Leah (Reuvain and Yehuda) who take the lead in the sale of Yosef, but the jealousy was felt by them all. This whole dynamic requires closer analysis, because this isn't just a portrait of a family; this is the history of the Divinely ordained founders of our people, whose behavior guides us. 

The critical question which must be investigated is: What was Ya'akov thinking? The Talmud criticizes Ya'akov's action by stating: According to Rava bar Machsayah - it was Ya'akov Avinu favoring of Yosef and giving him the special coat that sparked off the jealousy of the brothers, which, in turn caused them to sell him to Egypt, therefore every parent should learn from here not to favor one child over another (Shabbat 10b). The verse doesn't give us enough information. When we're told that Yosef was the 'son of his old age', that's not sufficient, because Binyamin was the son of even older age. 

An answer to our question is proposed by Rav Ya'akov Medan, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion. He suggests that by 'son of his old age' Ya'akov meant his successor. Ya'akov believed that it was his responsibility to hand over the Abrahamic tradition to the future leader of the nation. The Technicolor Dream Coat represented this designation. Yes, it caused jealousy, as had happened between Ya'akov and Esav; Yitzchak and Yishmael. However, he believed that it was necessary. Rav Medan points out that the structure of our story shows a miscalculation on the part of Ya'akov. The succession also comes through the Matriarchs, and, therefore, Ya'akov will have two primary heirs, Yosef and Yehuda. That's why we have the story of Yehuda and Tamar, which explains why both of them went 'down' (Yehuda in 38:1 and Yosef in 39:1) and away from the rest of the brothers, and a host of other parallels.  

These were the challenges and tests which prepared them for leadership; Yehuda through the Davidic Dynasty and Yosef through the kings of Ephraim. Only the future heirs are subjected to tests. This also explains why there will be a Mashiach from the house of Yosef (TB Sukah 52b) and from the house of David (Yehuda). The Maharal M'Prague suggests that Mashiach ben Yosef represents the heart of Israel and Mashiach ben David is the intellect. 

Perhaps the greatest challenge of Ya'akov's long and difficult life was how to manage this predicament. He knew Yosef's potential and destiny, but still must father the others who would become the Tribes of God. The Ma'or V'Shemesh (Reb Kalonymus Kalman Epstein, 1753-1823) suggests that this explains Ya'akov's refusal to be comforted over the supposed death of Yosef (37:35). This tragedy represented the ultimate failure of the Patriarch: He assumed that he hadn't handed over the tradition to the designated heir. 

But maybe we're being too harsh. Perhaps, Ya'akov's parenting skills were better than we credit him with. There's a fascinating article by Cathy Cress (https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/mom-loves-you-best/201105/gen-x-parents-teach-sibs-act-team-avoid-siblings-rivalry) in which the author argues, persuasively, that siblings can benefit from learning how to work as a team. This process of team building, she claims 'As they get older, they may reconstitute their team many times-for rituals, for rites of passage, and for taking care of aging parents.' That definitely sounds like a win-win to me, an aging parent. Ya'akov tasking the children to work together in the family business may have had that goal in mind. 

Ya'akov clearly understood that his role was to prepare the family of Avraham Avinu for the next step, which was to become an emerging nation. He saw that he had to establish roles and hierarchy within the clan for this to work. It wasn't easy. After the kidnapping of Yosef, he believed that he had failed. Sefer Breishit will end with the final triumph of his assignment. I pray that we do as well in our parenting.  

  


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