The Rabbi's Study

When a Father Loves a Son

The families in Torah are easy for us to relate to, and it has often been stated and discussed that this is because they are simply dysfunctional and while they are our role models in so many regards, their family lives are generally not at ease – like so many of us.

This seems to begin with the tension between Yitzhak and Yishmael, but it really comes to a new level when Rivka and Yitzhak are divided in their love for their twin sons, Yaakov and Esav. So many of Yaakov’s struggles which lead to his trauma and internal battles stems from the fact that his father loved his brother more. And so it should come as some surprise when we read in Parashat Vayeshev, “Yisrael loved Yosef more than his other children…” (Gen. 37:3).

What is the result of this preferential treatment? Of course it will all lead eventually to Yosef being abused by his brothers, eventually making his way down to Mitzrayim and sold as a servant, only to elevate himself to the highest levels of aristocracy and political control, so he is then in a position to grant his brothers land rights, and this then leads to the eventual servitude of the Children of Yisrael in Mitzrayim.

However, what’s the ultimate result of that servitude? Yetziat Mitzrayim and the redemption of our ancestors and the eventual return to the Land of Israel. And this raises the question, is there something wrong with this preferential love? Based on the idea that once his personality is split, it is Yaakov who succumbs to the Shadow and it is Yisrael who fulfills the fullness of Self. It is in this spirit that the Netziv presents his interpretation:

It’s not written, “and Yaakov loved,” to teach us that this love was not something corporeal, or because of some physical benefit, rather his father saw within him spiritual matters which made him worthy of such a love…

Rabbeinu Bahya picks up on this as well, and he states:

As soon as the Holy Blessed One calls him Yisrael, Scripture will sometimes refer to him as Yaakov and sometimes as Yisrael, and this teaches us that this name is additional to Yaakov…

In other words, the name Yisrael does not replace the name Yaakov, its usage teaches us about the state of being of Yaakov/Yisrael. So, the question arises, is this love of Yosef rooted in the same misguided parenting of his ancestors, or is this something different?

Throughout Parashat Vayeshev, whenever the name Yisrael is used in regards to Yosef, it pushes him towards his destiny, so even though the path to fulfilling the destiny is wrought with tragedy and difficulty, this love comes to serve a higher purpose and is not grounded in same attitude as his father Yitzhak’s preference of Esav.

 

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