Keeping the Faith
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
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