Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
The Talmud, the body of Jewish civil and ceremonial law and tradition, councils the Bible student: "Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it.” That is certainly true for the Book of Genesis.
The story of Joseph, the favored son of his father Jacob (whose other name is Israel), begins in chapter 37 and has a dramatic conclusion in chapter 50. It’s a beautifully written saga that begins with the hopeless family triangle that results when one person, Joseph, is loved too much, another person, the father, loves one child too much, and the rest of the family, in this case eleven other brothers, are loved too little.
The symbol of this conflagration is the famous Coat of Many Colors, which is more properly described as "a long robe with sleeves." Anyone who wears a coat like that is clearly set apart from ordinary folks who wear short sleeves so they can actually work. This extraordinary garment is a red flag to the brothers: Joseph is entitled in a way they are not. They grow to hate him.
Joseph does not help himself by his petulant, spoiled-brat personality. He tattles on some of the boys, and he tells the brothers about his remarkable dreams, including one in which the sun, moon, and eleven stars bow down to him. No wonder, when the time comes, the brothers sell Joseph to foreign traders and tell their father that his favorite son is dead.
In her book Wrestling with Angels, Naomi Rosenblatt writes, “The chilling lesson of this story is that love and hate are closely related emotions.” I think another lesson of this story is that nothing is as powerful in family relationship as the way parents love each child. Some of us may have felt the joy but also the tremendous burden of being the favored child; others may read this with bitterness and longing and unresolved questions.
Whoever we are, we learn in Genesis that God is with us—in all sides of the turbulent triangle. As the story of Joseph unfolds, there is redemption, reunion, and reconciliation. God’s hand, though invisible, is behind the family’s great adventures in the exotic land of ancient Egypt. It is a story well worth reading; the Talmud is right: everything is in it.
Thank you, God, for the consolation and wisdom found in the Bible. Help us to open ourselves to its truth, and love. Amen.
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Jones.