Why did Jacob give only Joseph a special coat?
Table for Five: Vayeshev
In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of his old age; and he made him a fine woolen coat.
Nili Isenberg, Pressman Academy Judaics Faculty
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808 – 1888) explained that “there was the making of an exceptional man in Joseph. Israel saw himself living on in him.”
Today, we look to the State of Israel as the first flowering of our redemption and the hope of our survival. At this critical time, Jews from all over the world have rushed with love to support the IDF with the physical garments they desperately need for this sudden time of war: boots, socks, underwear, and body armor vests to protect them on the battlefield. Not only have all stripes of Jews provided these essentials, but there has also been an inspirational undertaking to tie thousands of army-green pairs of tzitzit, in demand by both religious and secular soldiers alike. May the one who blessed our ancestors bless the soldiers in the IDF on land, air, and sea, and may our enemies be struck down before them!
Lo Aleinu [may that not happen to us], Joseph’s garment was also the coat that his brothers later showed to Jacob to prove Joseph’s supposed death (Genesis 37:31-35). The photos of the personal items left at the Nova music festival help us grasp the feeling of finding out about such a tragedy. Like Jacob, may the families of those who have gone missing see their loved ones returned immediately. Bring them home now!
This Hanukkah, may our soldiers know the great love we have for their efforts, and may they be our modern Maccabees, bringing the gifts of miraculous military and spiritual victories.
Benjamin Elterman, Screenwriter, Essayist, Speechwriter at Mitzvahspeeches.com
It is very puzzling that Jacob would show favoritism to Joseph in front of the other brothers. In Gemara Shabbos (10b) it says to never single out a child for preferential treatment, and it criticizes Jacob for giving Joseph the coat. How could Jacob have done this? Didn’t he remember the pain he felt when his father, Isaac, favored Esau? The Chasam Sofer points out an interesting nuance in the Gemara’s language which may defend Jacob. The Gemara says don’t single out “one son among sons.” Why not just say don’t single out a son? What is this son among sons? The Chasam Sofer comments if the children are going in the same direction, have the same nature, and are more or less on the same path in life, a parent must be careful not to show favoritism in any way.
However, if there is a child that is unique, has special abilities, or even special needs, he is not a “son among sons.” That child does need special attention. If a family understands that a child has a different role in life or their talents need to be cultivated in a different way, that’s okay. Jacob believed that Joseph was meant for a different destiny. So what was the problem? He thought his other sons recognized Joseph’s gifts as well. But they didn’t see him that way, and it led to jealousy and devastation.
Rabbi Chanan Gordon, Prominent International Inspirational Speaker
LOVE IS NOT ALL YOU NEED
The Torah unashamedly illustrates the fact that even the greatest people are fallible. To that end, the so-called error made by Yaakov in favoring his son Yosef is often used as an example, citing the pasuk in Vayeishev (37:3) “and Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons …”
One of the important life lessons many of the commentators extrapolate from this pasuk is to appreciate the power of love. More specifically, love unites but it also divides. It leaves the less-loved feeling abandoned and even feeling hated. It is for this reason that the pasuk immediately following 37:3 notes that “when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him…” (37:4).
In the civil laws enumerated in the Torah, there is usually a connection between a specific law and something that happened which underscored the need for that law. The Torah points out that a firstborn child is entitled to a double share in his father’s inheritance (Deut. 21:15-17). Reuven, not Yosef, was the first born of Yaakov. The Gemara hints to a connection between the story of Yaakov and Yosef and the laws of the First Born (Bava Batra 118 b).
The life lesson that the Torah is teaching us for all times is that love must be tempered with justice to ensure that decisions are fair and equitable and as a stark reminder that often love is blind!
David Brandes, Writer of “The Quarrel”
Jacob as a young man learned to get his way through deceit and scheming. He manipulated his brother Esau into selling his birthright. He colluded with his mother as she orchestrated the plot to get a passive, possibly complicit, Isaac to give Jacob the blessing meant for Esau. In such a family one was not rewarded for speaking openly. As a result, it would be difficult or impossible to resolve grievances. This probably explains why Jacob was never able to reconcile with Esau.
Most of us grow up in families where openness takes a back seat to tact and superficial kindness. A lack of openness and honesty constantly mutates. A friend’s late uncle, whom everyone loved, was masterful at intuiting feelings and selectively telling people what he assumed they wanted to hear. It became unconscious behavior. In such a family, no one feels confident about where they stand, or how they are seen. In such a family, it’s hard to even know one’s own feelings.
After his life-altering struggle with the angel, his name changed to Israel, Jacob created a family unlike the one he grew up in. He was straightforward with his sons to a fault. Against this backdrop we can better understand Jacob giving Joseph the special coat thereby stoking the envy of his brothers. Jacob most likely understood that Joseph lived closest to God and was the chosen one. And he knew that the bad blood between the brothers would be resolved in the family’s openness.
Nina Litvak, Accidental Talmudist Org
Every parent understands that if you give a gift to only one child the others will be envious, and envy is a dangerous emotion (see: Cain v. Abel.) So why does our Patriarch Jacob give a coat only to Joseph, unsurprisingly causing Joseph’s brothers to hate him?
Joseph is an intellectual and spiritual giant, and Jacob knows that he is destined to lead the Jewish people. But Joseph is still a boy. In the previous verse, he brings “bad reports of [his brothers] to their father.” This is an immature act as evidenced by the verse describing Joseph as seventeen years old, and with apparent redundancy as a “lad.” Why doesn’t Jacob gently rebuke Joseph for being a tattletale? Perhaps he knows how harmful parental rebuke can be to a youth. Jacob is training Joseph for an exceptional destiny. His father’s unflinching belief in him gives Joseph the strength to endure horrors and then save Egypt – and his own family – from famine. He is able to resist Potiphar’s wife when he sees his father before him (Talmud). Rabbi Reuven Mann says that Joseph’s coat is “responsible for saving the Jewish people.”
The envy-fueled hatred of Joseph’s brothers teaches us never to favor one child over another. But there’s a more positive parenting lesson we can learn from Jacob: we must give our children the confidence and tools to be the best version of themselves they can possibly be, and thereby effect the most positive change in the world.
Image: Jacob Giving Joseph The Coat by Adriaen Gael the Younger, c. 1650
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