This week's parashah – Vayeshev - depicts the family life of Jacob and his children, in particular focusing on the preferential treatment received by Joseph. As one could predict this leads to extreme jealousy from his brothers, eventually culminating when they forcibly sell him to a group of Ishmaelites. The story continues with Joseph arriving and beginning life as a slave in Egypt, although to begin with I am going to solely focus on this initial part.
I find this story strangely disappointing, through one of our forefathers (Jacobs) failure to treat his children fairly, although from this we see a message of responsibility. When taking on a role, or in this instance fatherhood, one must fully commit to it and act in a manner where they maximize the positive impact, they have through it. In this sense, rather than the manner in which Jacob brought up his children being flawed, it was in fact this decision as a whole, which lead to favoritism and therefore should have been avoided. To this effect, Jacob demonstrates a truly relevant message of commitment to responsibility, but equally the difficulty of executing this, as even he fails to do so. Jacob's flaw (in his treatment of his children) highlights how this task is seemingly impossible to accomplish across all circumstances, begging the question of how one should act in regards to learning from this message.
When deliberating this, I turned to my own interactions and experience, finding the beginning of my answer in an unlikely place: Mama Mia. For those who don't know, this film describes the build up to a wedding, where the bride realizes that any of three strangers could be her father so chooses to invite them all. As well as acting as a cautionary tale, underlining the potential difficulties that could stem from the failure to use protection, it also illustrates three men taking and committing to responsibility.
From a position where none of the bride's potential father's new of her existence, all three readily and quickly committed to involving themselves in her life. Having no definitive answer to who was the actual father, they were all able to make the positive decision to act as fatherly figures for her and accept responsibility in this manner. I find this accurately demonstrates how one should act when engaging with all matters. Initially with an open mind, but also with a commitment to take responsibility and act positively once you understand the situation and your connection to it.
This was shown in an even more emphatic manner by Joseph, who in almost fairytale manner, I would argue had his greatest strength (of taking positive responsibility) in the main area where his father was flawed (in not living up to the responsibility he undertook of raising his children). Originally Joseph acts as a slave to Potiphar, where he rapidly becomes senior due to his optimistic approach to his life and positive impact on others through this role. However, even when he later finds himself in prison (due to a false claim by Potiphar's wife that he forced himself onto her) this admirable outlook continues. Whilst in prison he befriends two felons and attempts to aid them by foretelling their futures. Bearing in mind the journey of his life, after going through betrayal from his family, to slavery, to prison and having all he knows repeatedly stripped away from him throughout this, it is incredible that he remains alive, let alone being a source of solace for others.
The misfortunes of Joseph’s life make his ability to continuously commit to positive responsibility all the more poignant, especially considering the extent he takes this to. Joseph not only takes on the described responsibilities with an optimistic and committed attitude but has no obligation to fulfil these roles other than through his own sense of morality. In addition to employing responsibility, he allows himself the opportunity to do so. Hence Joseph’s story is a testament to his character as well as providing a meaningful message: that as well as committing to our actions we should pursue chances to have a positive impact. Moreover, just as Joseph did, in order to take on as much responsibility towards benefiting everyone as possible, we must make the opportunities for ourselves to act in this manner.
Aitan Zeital, JZA BBYO UKI
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All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
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