Last week, in Parasha Vayishlach, Jacob found himself wrestling with an angel as he prepared to reconcile with his brother Esau and return to the Holy Land.
In this week’s Parasha, Jacob, along with his 12 sons and one daughter, settled in Canaan, an ancient Egyptian term, referring to an area encompassing Israel, Lebanon, northwestern Jordan, and some western areas of Syria.
After the age of the Patriarchs, this area became known as Eretz Yisrael(Land of Israel) or the Holy Land.
The use of the Hebrew word yeshev in the first verse of this Torah reading indicates that Jacob and his family truly settled in Canaan.
This verb has the connotation of putting down roots and living somewhere, rather than just resting temporarily while on a journey to another destination. The Hebrew noun yishuv, meaning settlement, is related to yeshev, which means sit, remain, dwell or settle.
The rabbis believe that the use of the word “yeshev” shows that Jacob, who was in his later years, desired to live peacefully and experience a sense of permanence or home.
In his life to that point, he had already been through more than his fair share of trials and tribulations: his brother threatened to kill him; his father-in-law deceived and cheated him; he was tricked into marrying the woman who was supposed to be his sister-in-law; the wife he did love died in childbirth; and his daughter was raped.
But that was not the end of Jacob’s troubles.
In this Parasha, Joseph (Yosef), Jacob’s favorite son, is sold to slave traders for 20 pieces of silver by his older brothers.
Jacob was devastated when his sons delivered Joseph’s bloodied tunic to him. They allowed Jacob to believe that Joseph was killed by a wild animal.
“He recognized it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.’” (Genesis 37:33)
Jacob became so sad that he was inconsolable.
“All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.’ So his father wept for him.” (Genesis 37:35)
Peace in the Home
“Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age.” (Genesis 37:3)
Although this Parasha begins with Jacob settling in the Land, it quickly turns its attention to Joseph.
The story of Joseph is given considerable attention in the Torah, and compared to other characters, there is quite a bit written about him.
Though God had gifted Joseph with some very special abilities, these gifts did not save him from his brothers, who wanted to kill him.
They had the perfect opportunity to do so when Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers, who were tending sheep in Shechem.
Reuben intervened, hoping to rescue him later. Instead of killing Joseph, they ruthlessly threw him into an empty cistern.
The hearts of Joseph’s brothers were so cold to him that they callously sat down together to eat, ignoring their younger brother’s cries for mercy.
It seems that the other nine brothers had not entirely given up on the idea of killing him, so Judah also intervened, suggesting they could make a profit by selling Joseph to slave traders.
“Judah said to his brothers, ‘What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.’” (Genesis 37:26)
In considering what went wrong in this family, the rabbis do not lay the blame entirely on Joseph’s brothers, despite the fact that they hated him.
They also place some of the responsibility on Jacob, who loved Joseph more than his other sons.
He conferred special status on Joseph by giving to him a coat of many colors. This favoritism caused his brothers to envy and hate him.
Add to this family dynamic the intense rivalries of Jacob’s four wives—Bilhah, Zilpah, Rachel and Leah—each one striving to be the preferred wife. Of course, Rachel was the wife he had chosen, the one he loved best.
In Judaism, shalom bayit(peace in the home) is a revered concept of central importance.
This Parasha exposes a few factors that can disturb peace in the home—favoritism being one thing that sows discord in the family. Or in today’s vernacular, preferential treatment is one indicator of a dysfunctional family.
This Torah portion also reveals, perhaps, some of the difficulties that blended families encounter. Maintaining peace in the home can be a challenge when diverse personalities and relationships are involved. Of course, families do not have to be blended to experience this.
Considering the fact that even a monogamous marriage can be challenging, we can only imagine how difficult it was to maintain shalom bayit in Jacob’s household.
Perhaps many of us can relate to this.
Today, countless families are blended and step families are just one example of modern-day family dynamics. Often, children are forced to take sides in conflicts between parents while the children’s feelings and thoughts are ignored, discounted, criticized, etc.
Vision and the Revelation of Destiny
As a young man, Joseph, like his father and brothers, was a shepherd.
While we may not ordinarily associate shepherding with greatness, this Parasha reveals that Joseph was a man of tremendous vision.
Although his prophetic dreams imparted to him a revelation of God’s plan for his life, when he told his brothers about those dreams, it caused conflict. They perceived him to have a superiority complex.