Let Not One Child’s Luminescence Darken Another Child

Every year, we read the story about the special garment that a loving father made for his son: “Yaakov…. loved Yosef … since he was a wise child - so he made him a special “pasim” garment.” 

And every year, we read how: “the brothers saw that the father favored Yoseph …so they hated him.”[1]

And every year, we ask: Wasn't this predictable? Wasn’t it obvious that favoring one child - by giving him a special garment – will slight the other children and create dissension?

Why, then, did Yaakov give Yosef that special garment?

The answer Yitzchak’s this question may lie in Yaakov’s family history.

Let’s start with Yaakov’s father, Yitzchak.

Yitzchak’s relationship with his brother, Yishmael, had imploded long ago.

The following verses explain why that relationship imploded: “And Sarah saw [Yishmael] being derisive. So [Sarah] told Avraham, expel this maidservant and her son [to insure] that he doesn’t inherit with my son, Yitzchak.”[2]

According to many – and this reads well into the flow of the verses – Yishmael’s “derision” was the claim that he, as Avraham’s eldest child, was Avraham’s heir.[3]

This claim - which was really a claim to disinherit Yitzchak - caused terrible dissension. So much so, that it led to Yishmael being expelled from the patriarchal home.

Let’s also examine Yaakov’s relationship with his older brother, Esav. That relationship atrophied when Yaakov “stole” the first-born berachos - and the leadership that those berachos conveyed - from Esav.

There were many reasons as to why Yaakov – even though he was the “younger son - was entitled to those berachos and that leadership.[4] Which meant that Yaakov was right in “stealing” those berachos and in claiming that leadership.

Esav, though – who thought that he, as eldest, was entitled to those rights - refused to recognize Yaakov’s rights. 

Which resulted in Esav hating Yaakov because of that “theft.” 

Both with Yishmael and with Esav there so much hurt and so much hate. And all because of contention about inheritance and family leadership.

Which may explain why Yaakov gave Yosef that special garment. That garment may have been a sort of royal crown – a tangible statement that Yosef would be the “king” who would lead the family after Yaakov’s death. Such a statement – if made while Yaakov still lived – would create clarity about posthumous leadership. And such clarity – more than almost anything else - would forestall posthumous confusion and contention.

That clarity would prevent any Yishmael type “derisions.” And that clarity would prevent anything akin to the false first-born rights that Esav had claimed.[5]

Yaakov was right in creating that clarity of leadership.

Yaakov, though, may have been wrong in creating that clarity with a “pasim” garment. As the Gemara notes : "A man shouldn’t differentiate between his children, because … Yosef’s special garment made his brothers jealous, resulting in exile.”[6]

The Gemara doesn’t criticize Yaakov for clarifying leadership; history demonstrated the need for such clarity. The Gemara only criticize Yaakov’s use of the special garment to achieve that goal.

Why was he criticized for that?

Perhaps because that “pasim” garment was too overt in its statement of favoritism.

We’re not sure what “pasim” means or what a “pasim” garment is.

“Pasim,” which means palms of the hand and soles of the foot, can indicate that the garment reached Yosef’s hands and the bottom of his feet.[7]

“Pasim,” which means stripes, can also indicate that the garment contained stripes of different colors.[8]

That “pasim” garment – whatever it was – was something grandiose. And because it was grandiose, it didn’t just evoke appointment to leadership. It also evoked favoritism.[9]

Yes, Yaakov needed to appoint a successor.

And, yes, Yaakov needed to make a concrete statement about posthumous leadership so as to make that appointment inviolable. 

That statement, though, should have been made with something utilitarian - not with something grandiose enough to evoke feelings of favoritism.

This was relevant for Yaakov’s relationships with his children there and then.

This is relevant for our relationships with our children here and now.

Each one of our different children has his or her exceptionalities.

Some are excellent students. Some have exceptional moral compasses. Some have larger than life personalities.

Let every child’s exceptionalities shine. 

But let not one child’s shine cast a shadow on our other children.

Let’s highlight every child’s exceptionalities - without draping him in a proverbial special garment.

[1] Bereishis 37:1-4

[2] Bereishis 21:9-10

[3] Ramban, Bereishis loc. cit.

[4] Yaakov’s rights to the first-born blessings emerges from the incident where: “[Esav] sold the bechora [first born rights] to Yaakov (Bereishis, 25:30-34). See Rashbam, Radak Ad loc. Also see Rashi on Bereishis, 27:36 who notes the sale presumably entitled Yaakov to all bechora rights - including the right to the firstborn’s blessing.

[5] Sforno, Bereishis 37:3

[6] Shabbos 10b

[7] Midrash Rabba 84

[8] Radak, Bereishis 37:3

[9] The only other “pasim” garment mentioned in Tanach is the one worn by Dovid’s daughter:“ for such garments were worn by the king’s daughters (Shmuel II 13:18).”

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