Shabbat-Table Talks: Vayesheb

By Rabbi Ralph Tawil

Sibling Relationships (2nd of two parts)

Issue: Favoring one of your children

Part of the reason for sibling rivalries is that the children feel competition for their parents’ love. This is exacerbated when we actually do favor one of our children and show it. Our children are very sensitive about this issue and will always compare the treatment that they are getting from their parents with the treatment that their brother or sister is getting.

Text: (Genesis 37:3-4)

Now Yisrael loved Yosef above all his sons, for he was a son of old age to him, so he made him an ornamented coat. When his brothers saw that it was he whom their father loved above all his brothers they hated him, and could not speak to him in peace.

Is it right to for a parent to favor one of his children and to show that favoritism? Ya’aqob shows favoritism to Yosef. Yosef encouraged the "favored child" relationship with his father by bringing bad reports about his brothers to their father.

Ask: How would you feel if you were Yosef? How would you feel if you were one of the other brothers?

Ya’aqob’s favoring Yosef had disastrous consequences. It got to the point where Yosef’s brothers wanted to kill Yosef.

They saw him (Yosef) from afar, and before he had gotten near them, they plotted-cunningly against him to cause his death. They said: Here comes that dreamer! So now let us kill him and cast him into one of these pits and say: An ill-tempered beast has devoured him! Then we will see what becomes of his dreams! (Genesis 37:18-20)

Ask: Should parents love their children equally?

Parents should not be expected by their children (or themselves, for that matter) to love their children "equally." Not only is it impossible, it is not even desirable. Each person is unique and should be loved for her uniqueness. Children should be given the love and attention they need, regardless if it is being "exactly" balanced out. Each of our children has their special talents and needs; that is what we respond to as a loving parent. It would be ridiculous to try to love all of our children equally. What we must try to do as parents is find the unique aspects of each of our children and love that.

Admittedly, this can take some work. For example, how do you love the child who is the "crybaby;" Whose reaction even the smallest hurt or insult is to come crying to you? Michal and I had this issue with one of our children. We realized that we were not appreciating that child’s sensitivity. She had a highly developed sense of right and wrong for her age, and having good relationships was important to her. Once we saw her crying as a refined sensitivity, we were able to love that aspect of her and work with her to understand why things bothered her so much. It was that understanding of the positive aspects of her personality that allowed us to love her uniquely.

"It isn’t necessary to respond to each child with equal passion, and it is perfectly normal and natural to have different feeling towards different children. The only thing that is necessary is that we take another look at the less favored child, seek out her specialness, then reflect the wonder of it back to her. That is all we can ask of ourselves, and all the children need of us. By valuing and being partial to each child’s individuality, we make sure that each of our children feels like a number one child." (_Siblings Without Rivalry_ Faber and Mazlish, p. 98)

Once we love our children uniquely, there is no limit to the amount of love that we can show them. They are not likely to ask the question "whom does mom love more." Each child should feel that their love that mom shows them is different and special. We should never fall into the trap of comparing.

Ask: What could Ya’aqob have done to prevent the jealousy from developing?

Activity: Go around the room and ask your children to describe a unique quality that they have—being ready to help if they have trouble thinking of something.

To think about: Do you think that the phenomenon of anti-Semitism a result of the unique love that God has for Israel, His chosen people?

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