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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Skorka

Vayeshev - When the drama repeats itself

It is scientifically proven that certain family conflicts, such as abusive and violent behaviors, recur from one generation to the next. Therapists work with those affected by what they saw in their childhood to help them realise that the aggressive behavior of one or both of their parents need not be repeated in their generation. This great lesson about the challenge to cope with life’s injuries is described in the beginning of the story of the conflict between Joseph and his brothers. Jacob makes a mistake similar to that of his parents. He showed more affection for Joseph than the rest of his children (37:3). He made Joseph a special cloak which differentiated him from his brothers. In the Shabbat treatise of the Talmud (10,b) we find the teaching that says: “a person should never differentiate one of his children from the others by giving him preferential treatment. Because of the weight of the two sela of fine wool that Jacob gave to Joseph in making him the striped coat, beyond what he gave the rest of his sons, the brothers became jealous of him and led to our forefathers going down to Egypt and being enslaved there.”

Jacob settled his conflicts with his brother Esau prior to meeting him, but he did not do the same with the problems he had absorbed from his parents' relationship. The untimely death of Rachel, his beloved wife (35:16-20), probably diminished his ability to continue to wrestle with the same intensity as when he contended with the angel of his brother Esau. With her death he lost the person who embodied love in the Bible in all aspects. She is the mother who absorbs the pain of all the people of Israel, at the time of destruction, according to the description of Jeremiah (34:14); with Rachel, Jacob probably would have been able to address his inner conflicts.

Joseph's drama occurs when Jacob's children are already adults and are able to make their own decisions apart from the opinions of their father. Thanks to the cleverness of Joseph toward them, the brothers were able to overcome their resentment and live fully as such.

Shabbat Shalom!


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