Friday, 6 January, 2023 - 6:02 am

As we move on from Chanukah, I’m reminded of the annual discussion about gifts. Aside from the debate on how many gifts to give our children, where does this tradition stem from, and gifts vs. gelt – there is another dilemma to deal with. That is the challenge of giving presents to all of our children without causing too much sibling rivalry or jealousy. Lately, we’ve been trying to focus more on shared gifts to eliminate such concerns.

Perhaps we can take a cue from this week’s Parsha of Vayechi, in which Jacob blesses Joseph’s two sons Menashe and Ephraim.  Jacob gives a greater blessing to Ephraim, the younger son.  Over Joseph’s protests, Jacob switches his hands in order to place his right (stronger) hand on Ephraim’s head.

Joseph was concerned that Jacob may have been confused about the seniority, so he explained that Menashe was the firstborn. Jacob insisted that he was aware of that, but wished to bless Ephraim with a greater blessing.

Jacob saw no harm in elevating the junior Ephraim over Menashe.  But to Joseph it was a horror.

Perhaps Joseph’s perspective was influenced by his own life story. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers on account of his father’s favoritism shown to him.  Had his father not singled him out, he never would have suffered at the hands of his jealous siblings.  Jacob, on the other hand, was not aware of the suffering of Joseph. He simply saw the results – his son was viceroy of Egypt!

Joseph remained sensitive to favoring a younger son over the older. But Jacob recognized that each child is a unique individual, deserving specific attention.

In life, we sometimes need to wear the “Joseph” hat and at times the “Jacob” hat.  Discerning the correct balance, is the gift -- and challenge -- of parenting.

Comments on: Favoritism?

Bill Burns wrote...

Shalom! I follow your newsletters, but I am not Jewish, just a great admirer of the faith and the Jewish people.

Do you see any connection between Jacob's choice to give the younger son the blessing and his own story concerning the blessing he received in place of Esau? I'm not familiar with the commentaries on this passage, but like so many stories in Torah, I sense an echo.

Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz wrote...

Yes, the commentaries do point to a correlation between these two events.
In particular, Yosef and Menashe represent the sacred version of Esav's energy. This energy is focused on elevating the material world (in Esav's case it was corrupted; his father sought to salvage and uplift this energy). Hence Yosef's role as viceroy of Egypt and his preference that his son Menashe (who assisted him in the palace) receive the blessings. Yaakov preferred the spiritual oasis of Torah study. Therefore, he blessed Efraim, the grandson that spent time studying Torah with him.
Both are important pillars of Jewish life. As the Jews enter the Egyptian exile (in which they will be forced to interact more with the darkness of the world), the approach of Yosef gains more steam.
This is why this story is a critical part of our tradition.