Up until this point in the Torah narrative, it is safe to say that Jacob has worked hard and struggled for many years to build his family. After spending 34 years dwelling with Lavan his father-in-law, and after confronting and coming to peace with his brother Esau, Jacob needed a vacation. He needed some rest. With this idea the Torah tells us “vayeshev Yaacov” – And Jacob settled. Finally Jacob returns to his homeland and conflicts seem to be resolved. It is the same feeling we get after a long day at work. We like to come home, have a nice meal, and sink into our easy chair.
But the text tells us that there is something very wrong in Jacob’s home. As it sets us up to understand the “chronicles of Jacob,” it tells the story from the perspective of his eleventh son, Joseph. Just as Isaac and Rebecca showed favoritism to their children, we see Jacob doing the same with Joseph. This is a natural extension of the favoritism he showed for Rachel over Leah; and it is a major contributor to the trauma the family is about to endure. It would seem that “settling” or resting easy is not the proper place for Jacob at this stage in his life.
Jacob desired to settle in tranquility, but it pounced upon him the agony of Joseph. For when the righteous wish to settle in tranquility, God says: "Is it not enough for the righteous what is prepared for them in the World to Come, that they also ask for a tranquil life in this world?" (Rashi)
The many subsequent chapters that tell the story of Joseph and his family as they are reunited many years later show us that God will sometimes weave together even our personal failings to accomplish a divine plan.
But where did Jacob fall short? After many years of struggling with Lavan, struggling with the divine (hence his name Yisrael), and struggling with himself, Jacob let his guard down. He was not diligent enough in nurturing proper relationships in his family. The early favoritism he showed to Rachel evolved into his special treatment of Joseph and the jealousy of his other sons.
Said Resh Lakish in the name of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah: A man must not discriminate among his children, for on account of the coat of many colors which our father Jacob made for Joseph, "They hated him..." (Midrash Rabbah)
Consider when we physically injure ourselves. We all know that ignored injuries tend to get infected and fester. If we don’t get to the root of the problem, clean it up and put fresh bandages on a wound, that wound will soon get so severe that our entire life is put on hold so we can get urgent medical attention. We face similar situations in our own families and communities. Misunderstandings, jealousies, altercations and disagreements can create schisms in our interpersonal relationships. It often seems easier to just forget about these problems and ignore them as time passes. The problem is that these interpersonal injuries never get properly bandaged and erupt into splits in our family structure.
So his brothers envied him, but his father awaited the matter. (Gen. 37:11)
Jacob saw the warning signs within his family but it seems that he did not make adequate correction. Our Sages interpret “awaited” to mean that Jacob was waiting for Joseph’s dreams to come true and did not intervene in events that were playing out. On a spiritual level I won’t argue with this wisdom, but this is not something we should emulate in our own lives. We need to be diligent in seeking to heal broken relationships around us.
When we perceive wounds or problems between people in our families and communities, we need to be diligent in seeking their healthy resolution. Within our sphere of influence, this often means confronting destructive behaviors and getting to the root of recurring problems between people. It may seem easier to ignore those problems, but when we lack diligence in healing the relationships around us, our family fabric can sometimes be ripped beyond repair. Jacob’s remaining years after Joseph’s disappearance were a time of great mourning. May we be diligent in our relationships and learn from the mistakes of our forefathers.