Joseph’s brothers weren’t big on gratitude


This week’s Torah portion is Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1— 40:23.

As the oldest of four children, I know jealousy. I had to learn to share and cooperate with my siblings early on. It was not easy. In this week’s parsha, we read about Joseph, Israel’s favorite son, who received a coat of many colors from his father. When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more, they hated him.

Joseph dreamed a dream and told it to his brothers: “We were binding sheaves of wheat in the field, and my sheaf stood upright, while your sheaves bowed down to me” (Genesis 37:6-7). The implication was clear: The brothers were to serve Joseph.

Joseph’s brothers had gone to herd their father’s sheep at Shechem. They saw Joseph approach and said, “The dreamer is coming. Let’s go and kill him, and then throw him into one of these pits. We will see what comes of his dreams.” But brother Reuben said, “Shed no blood! Just throw him into the pit” (Genesis 37: 19-22).

Joseph’s brothers stripped him of his coat of many colors and cast him into the pit. When a caravan of Midianite traders came by, they pulled Joseph out of the pit. They sold him for 20 pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who brought him to Egypt as a slave.

Thankfully, the sibling rivalry in my family never got this bad. The jealousy that existed among Joseph and his brothers was extreme. They understandably struggled with their father’s favoritism and the power of Joseph’s dreams. The rabbis teach, “Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot” (Pirkei Avot 4:1). We can avoid being jealous by appreciating what we have. Developmentally, children are self-aware, but we must help them to cultivate an awareness of others and have gratitude for what they have.

Sometimes, as in the case of Joseph and his brothers, we get jealous of other people in our family. Even though we would never do what Joseph’s brothers did to him, it can still be hard to figure out how to handle these feelings. In order to help encourage gratitude among your children, help them notice simple things in life: a beautiful sunset or snowflakes falling gently from the sky. Express gratitude. Discuss of the process it took to get the loaf of bread to your table, thank the farmer for planting and growing the grain, the machinist who ground the flour, the baker who formed the flour into bread, the truck driver who transported the bread to the store, the clerk who stocked the shelves.

As we begin Chanukah on Saturday, you may decide as a family that to show gratitude for all that you have, you will designate one night of the holiday to give gifts to others. As a family, discuss who are some people or groups that you would like to help.  Have your child or children help choose something for someone in need.  Or donate your time, visit a homebound older relative, bake cookies for troops overseas, or go for a nature walk and pick up trash along the way.

Questions to discuss

What are some reasons that family members might get jealous of one another?

What are some different ways you can avoid being jealous or acting out of jealousy?

What are some things you are grateful for? How can you show your gratitude?

Luisa Moss is director of youth and education at Congregation Tikvat Israel in Rockville.

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