Shabbat Vayeyshev: Favouritism

November 26, 2021 by Jeremy Rosen
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“And Israel loved Yosef more than his other sons because he (Yosef) was born in his (Yaakov’s) old age”( Genesis 37: 3).

The coat of colours that Yaakov gave him, was a well-known sign in that world and in those times, that this son had been selected to be the ‘crown prince.’ Naturally, the older brothers resented him. Yosef’s arrogance made matters worse because he told tales about his brothers to his father and boasted about his dreams that he would become the leader. Yaakov recognized Yosef’s potential. But was that the deciding factor? Was it merit, love, or favouritism?

There is no specific word in the Bible for favouritism. But there are many cases in the bible of someone loving a wife or a child more than another. Avraham loved his first child Ishmael. Even so, at Sara’s urging and with God’s approval, Ishmael was sent away in favour of Isaac. Yitzchak himself loved Esav, whereas Rebecca loved Yaakov more. And Yaakov himself loved Rachel more than Leah. This is human nature even if it is often unfair.

In general, Yaakov gave leadership positions to the more suitable candidate. He promoted Yehudah over the firstborn Reuven. Shouldn’t Yaakov have learned from what happened to Joseph, not to favour a child? Or was he simply recognizing different talents and capacities? This is precisely what he does in his farewell blessings to his children at the end of Genesis and before he died. You could argue that Yaakov loved all his children but in different ways and for different characteristics. Just as his father did. Every child is different. And yet every child should be loved and encouraged to develop his or her specific talents.

Love is complex. You can love your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends, all in different ways and degrees, even though you use the same word. Love should be a commitment regardless of whether the object of one’s love is imperfect or deficient in some way. Good parents should love all their children while recognizing their different characters, talents, and goals.

Favouritism is when you appoint or promote someone for reasons that have nothing to do with the job. This is increasingly the received policy in the USA today, where excellence and merit have almost become dirty words and people are chosen simply because of their race or sex. It is the fallacy of our age to believe that children are the same, should be treated the same, and be expected to perform in the same way. We should recognize and reward excellence.

Giving everyone fair opportunities and helping the disadvantaged, is the measure of a fair society. But what we are now witnessing in the USA and elsewhere, is favouritism. And like nepotism, there is no word for that in the Bible.

Genesis Chapter 37 to 40:23

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