Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller
Parshas VaYeshev is the first of four parshiyos that discuss Yosef HaTzaddik’s travails when he was sold into slavery by his brothers and the repercussions it had on the family and indeed on the course of world history. The possuk seems to attribute the brothers’ resentment toward Yosef to Yaakov Avinu’s favoritism that he showed Yosef and also to Yosef’s own conduct toward his brothers, i.e., relating bad information to their father and telling them of his dreams of grandeur. Indeed, the Gemara (Shabbos 10b) says that a person should be careful not to show favoritism to one child over the other since “…for two selahs weight of fine wool which Yaakov gave Yosef more than his brothers, they were jealous and ultimately this led to our ancestors being enslaved in Egypt.”
This Gemara seems to blame Yaakov Avinu’s choice to favor as the catalyst for the entire Galus Mitzraim, the terrible suffering and enslavement in Egypt. The question is why did Yaakov overlook such a seemingly obvious dictum in raising children?
The Chassam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer of Pressburg, Slovakia 1762-1839) explains that Yaakov’s error was that he had a very different perspective of Yosef and of his position in the family. He saw Yosef as the scholar and Torah leader in the family. The Torah says that the reason Yaakov loved Yosef was because he was a “ben zekunim.” The Targum’s translation is that he was the wise son, the one to whom Yaakov transmitted all his lifetime learning. Since Yaakov saw Yosef this way, he thought that his other children saw this as well and that they recognized Yosef as a leader deserving of special status.
What Yaakov did not realize is that Yosef had a different relationship with his brothers. He acted like a “typical” brother even displaying an immaturity and perhaps a frivolity which did not make them feel that he was worthy of the leadership position to which he clearly aspired. The posssuk says he acted as a lad with the sons of Bilha and Zilpa. This created the rift between Yosef and his brothers since they believed that he wasn’t more worthy than they were of their father’s affection and attention.
As parents and as people of influence, we need to consider that other people may have a different perspective of an issue or of a person and that they may be very passionate about that perspective. If we are unaware or indifferent of this disparity, we might end up with a very damaging situation. We need to stay aware of feelings and attitudes of those whom we seek to influence, or we might be creating some very negative unforeseen consequences.