LIKE MOTHER LIKE SON
Rabbi Reuven Stein
Among the reasons that Joseph was given special treatment by Jacob was that he was the firstborn child of Rachel. A special quality of Rachel could be found in Joseph.
Among the reasons that Joseph was given special treatment by Jacob was that he was the firstborn child of Rachel. A special quality of Rachel could be found in Joseph. What was that quality? Furthermore, the sages pass on a tradition that the enemies of the Jewish people - Esau and Amalek - will only be defeated by forces led by the descendants of Rachel, as we find with Joseph, King Saul (who came from Benjamin), and Mordechai and Esther (who also came from Benjamin). What about the descendants of Rachel gives them this power?
The Midrash explains that Rachel's great merit was her tremendous sensitivity to the feelings of others. She was willing to give up all her hopes and dreams of marrying Jacob in order to prevent the embarrassment of Leah on her wedding night. Hoping to avoid any tricks that his conniving future father-in-law might try, Jacob had given Rachel a special password to ensure that no switch would be made. As feared, Laban attempted to switch Leah in place of Rachel. To save her sister from embarrassment, Rachel divulged the password to Leah, and Jacob and Leah were married. By giving the password away to her sister, Rachel risked Jacob's anger and the possibility of never being able to marry him, simply so that Leah would not face embarrassment. The great merit of this sacrifice has served to protect Rachel's descendants, the Jewish people, in many generations.
We find in this week's Torah portion that the Egyptian viceroy (Joseph, still in disguise) wished to keep Benjamin as a servant for the crime of "stealing" the royal goblet. Faced with this potential tragedy, the brothers pleaded with Joseph that they could not return to their father without Benjamin, and they even threatened to fight Joseph to the death. Joseph then orders all the Egyptians out of the royal chambers, where he would reveal himself to his brothers. The Midrash wonders, why would Joseph leave himself alone and outnumbered with his angry brothers? Wasn't he afraid that they might kill him? Joseph said to himself that it is better to risk being killed than to embarrass his brothers in front of the Egyptians. Remarkably, Joseph came to this conclusion even though these same brothers had sold him into slavery!
This supreme sacrifice was the glue that reunited the Jewish people. Joseph was following in the tradition of his mother - to risk everything rather than to allow someone else to be embarrassed. Esau only has power over Jacob because of some pain that Esau suffered when Jacob took the blessings. On some level, Jacob could have been more sensitive to his brother. Joseph, the descendant of Rachel, who had extreme sensitivity and care not to hurt others, would be the descendant that Esau could never defeat.
Rabbi Reuven Stein is the administrator of the Atlanta Kashruth Commission.
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