On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Torah Thought: Parsha Vayeshev

As part of our usual routine, when I was putting my 5 year old son to bed the other night, after we turn the lights out, we lie together and talk about our days. Lately he’s been playing a game where he gets out of bed and pretends his radio is a microphone and we ask each other questions about the weekly Torah portion.

When I asked him what happened in this week parsha, he made a very silly face, started strutting around the room and in a silly voice said “Look at me… Look at my coat… My coat is so pretty…. Look at me… Look at me.” I didn’t know if Joseph really strutted in this week’s parsha, but my son obviously got the point that Joseph was showing off in front of his brothers.

After he stopped strutting, he told me that Joseph was “being jealoush” by showing off his coat in front of his brothers. I tried to correct both his pronunciation of the word “jealoush” and explained that Joseph wasn’t acting jealous. He was acting conceited or possibly arrogant, but it was really his brothers who were acting jealous of the attention that Joseph got from his father Jacob. The Rabbis tell us that Jacob gave more attention to Joseph for many reasons:
1. Joseph was born when Jacob was older. For those of us with more then one child, our temperament seems to change as we get more experience parenting.
2. Joseph was the first born to Rachel, who Jacob loved more than any other wife.
3. Joseph displayed an outstanding capacity for Torah study & mitzvah observance. Hence he’s the only person who carries the title “Righteous” as he’s typically known Yosef HaTzadik.
All of that being said, it’s understandable why the brothers might have been jealous of Joseph.

Despite the evidence to the contrary and my assurance, my 5 year old insisted that Joseph was the one being jealoush.

Later that night, I started thinking about why people show off or act conceited. What is it about human nature that influences some people to act like their better then other people?

To be clear, conceit and confidence are two different things. Michael Jordan knowing that he’s the best basketball player alive is confidence. Michael Jordan walking around saying “I’m the greatest basketball player alive” over and over again is conceited.

It occurred to be that the only reason that someone acts conceited is because there’s something that they’re not getting that they want. It could be respect, love or admiration, but they’re clearly seeking something. Jacob had 10 half brothers that were much older than him and had a stronger bond between them. He had one brother from both parents who was much younger at this time. His mother had recently passed away. It would seem that Joseph’s conceit was the manifestation of his desire for the brotherly love that the sons of Jacob and Leah had for each other and in fact the origin of his conceited actions was the jealousy of that love.

I once heard that children teach their parents as much if not more then parents teach their children. In this case, it’s certainly true.

The lessons are clear. We should stay away from jealousy and conceit. If someone’s acting conceited, it may because they need some sort of emotional recognition. Last, but not least, the lack of brotherly love among Jews is the cause of most of our problems and also shows us the key to our redemption.

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