In our Parasha, Vayeshev, we read that Jacob favored Joseph and marked him as his successor, when he made him a ‘striped shirt’ that symbolized Joseph’s unique status in relation to the other sons.
Jacob’s behavior, combined with dreams Joseph had that indicated his desire to lead the entire family, caused his brothers to do something that should never be done – they sold Joseph into slavery.
Joseph was taken to Egypt and sold into slavery there, and later was even thrown into the Egyptian prison following a malicious plot. In the end – as we will read in the following weeks – the entire family went down to Egypt, and there, after a change of government, Jacob’s family – which in the meantime grew into the ‘nation of Israel’ – became slaves in Egypt.
Our sages of the Talmud direct our attention to Jacob’s behavior towards his sons:
“A father never should differentiate among his children or favor one more than the others. The fact that Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons and made him special extra clothing, was the trigger that lead the people of Israel to become slaves in Egypt.”
The sages who taught us to admire the fathers of the nation as people who won a particularly high spiritual and moral position, did not cover up the failures of the fathers of the nation. Jacob, so say the sages, should not have discriminated in favor of Joseph. It was an educational mistake that brought disaster for Jacob and the entire family. Equal treatment, if it had been given for all sons, would have prevented the frictions and tensions in Jacob’s house, causing suffering for him and for the nation of Israel.
True, we are human and not angels. We are also far from Jacob’s excellence. And yet we are called to learn from mistakes as well. An educational mistake can cost us dearly and charge heavy prices. The sages of Israel instruct us to learn from Jacob’s mistake and to follow the opposite path, to try to give each child the respectful treatment he deserves, and to make the child feel that he is always welcome and express the unconditional love for all the children equally.