written by: Sylvia Miller, Class of 1979
In memory of my father, Donald Miller - 4th Yarhrzeit 25 Kislev
Parshat Vayeshev, is one of those parshiyot that thrill a master storyteller! It speaks of parental favoritism, and a coat of many colors, a plot to kill, a journey to a land far away, self-control, undying faith, a butcher, a baker and the rise to dream interpreter fame…
This parsha also falls on the night before we light the first Chanukah candle in celebration of our festival of lights, Chag Ha Orim.
Is there a connection between the story of Joseph (Yosef) and his brothers and the festival of Chanukah?
Is it possible to look deep into the story of Yosef and the laws of candle lighting and glean an eternal message for parents and teachers?
“Now, Israel (Yaakov) loved Yosef more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a coat of many colors." (Bereshit 37:3)
Back in the day, shepherds wore coats. Plain and “robe- like” coats. These robes were used to stay warm and keep cool. Robes were used to carry belongings and sometimes served as collateral. They were utilitarian.
The Torah describes Yaacov’s gift to his son, Yosef, as a “coat of many colors”. A very unique and special coat. That “coat” created a feeling of jealousy among Yosef’s brothers. “And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak with him peacefully.” (Bereshit 37:4)
In a 2013 Time Magazine article on parenting and favoritism, it was noted, “In some families, certain siblings need more attention or support than others, and parents should discuss with their kids why they are approaching siblings differently to avoid any misunderstanding. Children 'don’t mind that parents treat them differently,’ They only mind when they see that differential treatment as unfair.”
Similar parenting advice can be found in our tradition. The Midrash criticizes Yaacov for showing favor to one son over the others. Resh Lakish said in the name of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah: "A man must not make a distinction among his children, for on account of the coat of many colors which our ancestor Jacob made for Joseph they hated him (Midrash Rabbah - Bereshit)
Regardless of one’s particular parenting style, parenting experts and educators know that when raising or teaching children, it is healthy approach to differentiate; making sure that each child is nurtured for their unique gifts and supported when necessary. As King Solomon reminds us, "Chanoch l'naar al pi darcho “(Educate a child according to the child’s way).
And yet, it is human nature. Some parents might have a tendency to shower one child with more attention. A teacher, without intent, might call on one students more often than on the others.
So, how does the story of Yosef and his brothers connect to Chanukah, the festival of lights?
There are laws that must be followed when lighting the menorah and there are customs that color the eight days that are grounded in the law.
Maimonides in Hilchot Chanukah (3:4) states that each individual has a requirement to light Chanukah lights, or to have an agent kindle the lights for him.
Customs differ among households. In some homes, it is a minhag (custom) that the entire household light only one menorah. The person who lights is a representative for the rest of the family.
In other homes, it is a custom that every member of the family, every child and even every guest, lights his or her own menorah. No favorites!
Regardless of how one might perform the mitzvah; the custom of every child having his or her own menorah to light could represent a powerful lesson for parents and teachers.
The Talmud blames Yaacov for showing favoritism and warns parents: “One should never favor one child over his other children, for it was the mere two shekels worth of silk, which Jacob gave to Joseph over and above that which he gave to his other children, that caused the brothers to be envious of him, leading eventually to our forefathers’ descent into Egypt.” (Shabbat 10b)
It is NOT accidental that Parshat Vayeshev’s unfolding story which begins, with Yaacov showing a special love for Yosef over his brothers, connects with Chanukah.
It is a timely teaching for parents and teachers to be mindful of how showing preferential treatment to one child over others can cause a ripple effect lasting beyond a lifetime. Let us all work on supporting our individual children’s special light and watch them shine because of that!
Sylvia Miller graduated from the Greenfield Hebrew Academy (AJA Lower School) in 1979. She is the School Counselor for AJA Lower School and Middle School.