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Parshat Vayeishev

By: Samantha Felder

This week's Parsha, Parshat Vayeishev, contains some very troubling scenarios. We have all learned about Yaakov and how much he loved and cherished his son Yoseph. To express his love for Yoseph, Yaakov gave him a beautiful multi-colored coat, making a clear distinction between his favorite child and his other sons. Favoritism is a pattern seen throughout the book of Bereishit. Yaakov himself felt and experienced his father, Yitzchak, show more appreciation and affection towards his brother Esav. Regardless of the common sense to avoid creating an uncomfortable, jealous, and even offensive atmosphere in the home, Yaakov lived through a difficult upbringing himself due to favoritism, yet still publicly adores Yoseph excessively. How can Yaakov justify his behavior?

To gain an understanding as to why Yaakov loved Yoseph more, Rashi points out many parallels between the two. The first reason was that the sole purpose Yaakov worked for Lavan was for Yoseph's mother Rachel. Yoseph reminded Yaakov of his most beloved wife, and therefore Yaakov was drawn to him. Another reason was that Yoseph's life was very similar to Yaakov's in the sense that his brothers all disliked him to the extent of wanting to kill him. However, if this is a reason why Yaakov favored Yoseph, then Yaakov knew his admiration was causing his son danger, so why would he continue to publicly display it?

Rabbi Nachshoni, author of Studies in the Weekly Parasha, provides an explanation. This parsha is the unfolding of Brit Bein Habetarim, which leads to the exile in Eygpt. Nations can only be exiled if they are a nation and Bnei Israel was not a nation yet, but it will be created from Yaakov and his sons. Rabbi Nachshoni quotes Tzofnat Pane'ach, who points out that in the peshat, it is written that "Yisrael loved Yoseph…" It does not refer to him as Yaakov, but rather as Yisrael, which implies the entire nation. The choice of this name hints to us that the exile of the nation was beginning. Without Yaakov's favoritism, the brother's hatred towards Yoseph would not have been strong enough to send him to Eygpt, and ultimately the promises of Brit Bein Habetarim would not have begun.

Rav Hirsch also provides an explanation. He starts by explaining why Yaaakov loved Yoseph more than his other children. Just like Rashi said, Yaakov saw himself living on through Yoseph, sharing the same characteristics and morals. But Rav Hirsch says this is no excuse for favoritism. "Jacob should not have listened to his tattle, that altogether to show favoritism to one child had only evil effects in the history of our forefathers." Rav Hirsch further states that although this was a weakness of Yaakov, everyone is human and entitled to a flaw. This very flaw was a necessity because without it, there would not have been a nation of Israel.

To conclude, it is troubling to see Yaakov, our forefather cause near death to his son by choosing a favorite child. Yaakov's mistake does not go unpunished because he does unfortunately suffer by mourning an intense loss. Ultimately though, Hashem knew that this series of events needed to be done in order for Bnei Israel to have a future.