In this week’s parsha, our father Yaakov marks a moment of great transition in the story of the establishment of the Jewish people as a national entity. Until Yaakov’s family appears on the scene, the story of Judaism and Jews is one of lonely and singular individuals. Avraham has to break away from the idolatrous home of Terach and wander to fulfill his dream of monotheism and morality. He is forced to make hard choices within his own family circle as to who his successor in this mission of nation building will be.
His faithful servant Eliezer is eliminated from the succession contest as is Yishmael and the numerous other children that Avraham sired. For only in Yitzchak will Avraham find a successor to further his ideals, beliefs and value system of life. Yitzchak is also faced with a winnowing process in designating an heir to the vision and destiny of his father Avraham.
Though he attempts to somehow salvage Eisav as well, in the end he fully recognizes that only through Yaakov can the mission, of uniqueness and Godliness that is to become the Jewish people, be fulfilled. Until Yaakov’s family arrives on the scene, the heritage and vision of morality and monotheism is entrusted only to one member of the family while the others so to speak are discarded by the wayside of history.
But Yaakov fathers twelve sons and a daughter. Is the pattern of only one of them being the true heir of Yaakov’s dream and mission to be repeated in his family as well? Past family history seems to indicate that such a scenario was possible if not even probable.
This perhaps explains the reaction of the brothers to the favoritism exhibited by Yaakov towards Yosef. The brothers were apprehensive that the mission of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov would again be entrusted to only an individual – only to one of them – and the other members of the family would again be historically discarded. And that chosen brother, judging by their father’s favoritism to him, would be Yosef.
And, they felt that Yosef was the incorrect choice for solely carrying on the heritage and mission that began with their grandfather Avraham. What they failed to grasp was that Yaakov and his family now marked the great transition, from Judaism being the faith and belief of individuals to now being the religion which would be embodied in a people, a society, and a national entity.
Since no two individuals are alike physically, mentally, or emotionally, the people that would emanate from Yaakov and his family would be made up of diverse individuals and ideas. But the cement and glue that would bind them all together would be the vision and faith of Judaism that was their common heritage and would be their common destiny as well.
It is much more difficult for a large group of people to retain a special identity and sense of mission than it is for an individual alone. The story of Yosef and the brothers that marks the concluding sections of the book of Bereshith is the supreme illustration of the challenge of molding individuals who are inherently different into a common and effective nation. This challenge still remains with us millennia later.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com