Favouritism or Choice?

We all like to go and see a good film. So there you are, popcorn in hand, choc-ices dripping, the film rolls and it reveals a handsome young man who is despised by his brothers, a family racked with internal jealousy, plotting and intrigue, a father who is trapped in the past, locked still in family personality and character traits which should no longer exist. There is an attempt on the young man’s life, finally being sold into slavery. Great multi-coloured costumes and sets adorn the screen, camels, sand and even the hint of adultery attempted and thwarted. Finally the redemption of the brothers and grieving father is played out before our eyes. There is forgiveness, tears, and reconciliation. There is even a small scene involving a prostitute and a strange meeting with one of the brothers. What a film, surely the Greatest Story ever told! Well, almost the greatest story ever told.

The G-d of Israel, the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, is not just their G-d. He is the ruler and director of nations and empires. All history is His story. It is often said that Yosef could not have risen so high in Egypt, yet a closer look shows that he arrived at a time (probably between 1700 and 1550 BCE) when the Hyksos were the ruling dynasty. Why is this important? They were of Semitic descent having taken over during the weak Middle Kingdom years in Egypt. It would explain why Potiphar is described as ‘The Egyptian’ in Bereshit (Gen) 39:5, it was unusual to have someone local in such a high position. It would also explain somewhat the rise to position for Yosef, as being one whom they, the Semites, recognised. Yet the final explanation is also given in the Torah in Bereshit (Gen) 39:2: G-d was with him. For such a time as this, Egypt had been prepared to receive him, to shelter him and hold him securely until the time when the unfolding will of G-d brought him out again to prominence.

Salvation came to the family from the despised, rejected, afflicted and forgotten brother. Left for dead, handed over to the Gentiles, he became the unmentioned one, the elephant in the room no one wanted to talk about. This expression of collective guilt was suppressed until finally he is revealed to them. As they stood before him he was unrecognisable, such was the transformation that had taken place. Who had expected salvation to come from this brother? Yet Yosef had learnt well from his tortured life. He knew that G-d is always in control. His sovereign power to rule and direct the affairs and history of mankind is seen everywhere. Is the world out of control? No, we just panic because we don’t see the next step.

Choice and election are written large through this portion. Yet another similar theme is too: favouritism. Yosef is loved by his father Ya’akov more than the others. It seems that Ya’akov learnt many lessons but still struggled with family favouritism as he had benefited from it and now passed on to Yosef. The others disliked him because of this! Was it that Ya’akov saw him as the ‘true’ firstborn, of Rachel his true love? In any case this preference and Yosef’s initial reaction to it sets in motion a chain of events that while in the short term brings pain and sorrow on Israel, ultimately leads to salvation and deliverance. Yet it seems clear that Ya’akov showed favouritism rather than listening to G-d’s choice. Despite the strong themes of salvation and deliverance in Yosef, it is through Yehuda that Messiah/ Mashiach comes. That was G-d’s choice. Yehuda is the royal line of King David, and finally to the Mashiach, King of the Jews, as His nameplate stated at His execution. Ya’akov’s obvious favouritism produced problems, it always does.

Favouritism is based on human judgement of like-mindedness, of similarity of views or outlook, of superficial agreement, manipulation and the often selfish desire to extend one’s sphere of influence ever further abroad. But some will say ‘isn’t that what we have with Israel?’ Surely we are G-d’s choice and that must mean favouritism! According to Deut 7:6-8 G-d’s choices are not based on any criteria other than that He can choose. We were not greater in number, more highly trained militarily, beautiful to behold, articulate or anything else, and certainly not because we had a natural penchant for obedience! He just chose us. Israel calls out so often: Can’t you choose someone else for once? What has our election ever brought us, nothing but pain and misery, the world hates us. Well, G-d’s elected and chosen One, His Mashiach Yeshua, also went the same path.

G-d has no favourites in the human way. According to Rom 9:12 no one person can ever claim to have more of G-d’s favour than anyone else, it all rests on Him who calls. Once called, the path may be painful and at times seem odd, but our lives are wrapped up in His plans and will, as nations and empires come and go, the Name of the Lord will be praised, and so all Israel will be saved.

Parashat Vayeshev
Rabbi Binyamin