There is a fascinating insight brought from the Midrash on this week’s Parsha, by the great commentator on the Chumash, the Kli Yakar. When Yoseph went on his father’s mission to check out how his brothers were doing with the flocks of sheep in Shechem, (Bereishis 37:15) the pasuk says that Yoseph was “Toeh BaSadeh” – he was going erratically in the field.
The Kli Yakar brings a homiletic interpretation from a Midrash that Yoseph’s “error in the field” was a mistaken understanding of the matter of the field. It refers, says the Midrash, to the matter of Kayin and Hevel who contended with each other `in the field’. (Bereishis 4:8) They were arguing over whether Hevel had a right to be on `Kayin’s’ field. Kayin became so enraged with jealousy at the possible loss of the field (and rights to exclusive use of the earth’s land) to his rival, his brother Hevel, that he actually killed him.
The Midrash says that Yoseph’s mistake was comparing the jealousy he perceived in his brothers over the K’sones Pasim, (the special coat from his father Yaakov) to the jealousy about the field. Mindful of his brothers’ jealous feelings towards him, Yoseph nevertheless felt that being jealous about ownership of land (the field) is a big deal, and therefore resulted in tragic consequences, but jealousy over an article of clothing is a small deal, not one that could arouse such strong emotions. That was ‘the error in the field.’ Yoseph tragically underestimated the depth of passion those feelings of jealousy aroused in his brothers against him.As parents who are hopefully blessed with multiple children, do we appreciate how strong and how deep the feelings of jealousy may be between our children? How careful we must be to not be the cause of undue hard feelings between them. We should examine our words and actions. Do we consciously or subconsciously put one down while raising the other up? Do we have an `apple of our eye’ but convince ourselves those feelings are never communicated to the other children? One cannot hide one’s emotions from those nearest and dearest – before long the less favored child will feel it, with potentially devastating results.
Frequently, the child who is at-risk of leaving our community and Yiddishkeit is the one in the family who is different, with different interests and priorities. You need to shower such a child with extra love – because he or she feels different and feels or fears your disapproval. As Dr. David Pelcovitz puts it – the child who doesn’t embrace the family bumper sticker (e.g `Harvard or Bust’, or` Lakewood or Bust’) is at risk of being alienated and distanced from siblings and family.
Being mindful of sibling rivalry is a first step in creating a home with normal, healthy, happy and harmonious relationships. We want to recognize and applaud each child and his or her strengths, creating an environment where each child feels special. We want to make sure we are promoting good will and not causing harm. A classic in the field of sibling relationships entitled Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, (W. W. Norton and Co.) is a very worthwhile read. It is filled with practical tips in dealing with all aspects of parenting siblings and its challenges. As a bonus, it will help minimize the bickering and annoying behavior that can drive parents `crazy’.
By taking the effort to understand and empathize with our children’s feelings that arise from being `one among many’ we will have taken a giant leap in improving the quality and happiness of their – and our lives.
Best wishes for a Shabbos in which brothers (and sisters) dwell together in peace and harmony,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann