Vayeishev - [Jacob] Settled
"Jacob now settled ... in the land of Canaan."
As with the story of Jacob's dream, his wrestling with the emissary of God, and the imagery of the iconic ladder to the heavens - this week's portion also contains some of the most memorable narratives in the Torah. We not only read about the continuing sagas of the many wives and all the children of
Jacob, but also, we are presented with the famous story of Joseph and his brothers.
Joseph is so important a figure in our history because he is all at once our link to Egypt, our link to the return of the Jewish people to the promised land, and our link to our earliest example of what it means for an Israelite to succeed in the midst of a foreign culture only to see his descendants marginalized by that same culture. We read all of this and more through the story of Joseph, so it only makes sense to take a look at how his story actually began.
In so many stories from our tradition we look at human flaws and learn how those flaws relate to our own lives. We don't even see a momentous story of liberation and slavery unless we first read about a group of brothers - the sons of Jacob - who turned on each other. They were ripe with jealousy for a brother they felt held the favor of their father - and a brother who seemingly did not let them forget it.
This theme of sibling rivalry is so relevant to the work we do as educators and parents, not only because it does happen but because of where it came from in this story. There is no question that Jacob favored Joseph and his mother over the other siblings and their mother. We read about why in previous passages, but there is no evaluation of it's outcome until we get to this portion. Veyeishev tells us about the outgrowth of jealousy,
favoritism and boastful pride.
The learning in this portion of course comes from the opposite values from those just listed. Contentment, fairness, and humility are at the core of what it means to be a decent person. We all can fall into those negative traits on occasion, as we are once again presented with a cautionary tale in our weekly teaching. One way to better understand the more positive course of action for this family is to look at the Kabbalistic teachings of the Omer - the reflective process we use just after Passover on our way to Shavuot. When we count the Omer we are presented with 7 different human attributes to examine
we are to ask ourselves how in balance are we with them all.
For example, love is an amazing attribute, but when Jacob shows too much love for Joseph, that creates an unfair situation for the whole family - an imbalance - and we can see the damage that can cause. Who would have thought one could love too much? This is a story that shows us how powerful love is and how careful we need to be when putting it on display.
So, one could look at this as a story of sibling rivalry, or one could look at it as a story about the immense power of love. One could look at it as a story about Joseph's amazing power of seeing the future, or one could look at it as a story about staying modest, even when one has an amazing gift.
Whichever way you choose to see the family of Jacob, see both their amazing role in our history and their role in teaching us valuable lessons about life, family, and personal growth.
Useful resources on the weekly parsha: