THE FAVORITE CHILD

“I love you all equally!” How many times have we reassured our children that none of them are the favorite and that we love them all equally? But do we ever favor one over the other? Do we wish that all of our children could be a bit more like _______? In Jewish tradition, we are taught that the first born has a special place and earns a unique status amongst the offspring but again and again we see parent in the Torah struggling with this tradition. We will see what we can learn from their struggles and how we can come to see all of our children as equally worthy, beautiful, special and loved.

 

Genesis 4:3-5

וַֽיְהִ֖י מִקֵּ֣ץ יָמִ֑ים וַיָּבֵ֨א קַ֜יִן מִפְּרִ֧י הָֽאֲדָמָ֛ה מִנְחָ֖ה לַֽיהוָֽה׃ וְהֶ֨בֶל הֵבִ֥יא גַם־ה֛וּא מִבְּכֹר֥וֹת צֹאנ֖וֹ וּמֵֽחֶלְבֵהֶ֑ן וַיִּ֣שַׁע יְהוָ֔ה אֶל־הֶ֖בֶל וְאֶל־מִנְחָתֽוֹ׃ וְאֶל־קַ֥יִן וְאֶל־מִנְחָת֖וֹ לֹ֣א שָׁעָ֑ה וַיִּ֤חַר לְקַ֙יִן֙ מְאֹ֔ד וַֽיִּפְּל֖וּ פָּנָֽיו׃

 

In the course of time, Cain brought an offering to the LORD from the fruit of the soil; and Abel, for his part, brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock. The LORD paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering He paid no heed. Cain was much distressed and his face fell.

 

The Archetype of the Firstborn, Ismar Schorsch (www.jtsa.edu)

At the dawn of human history, it was the sacrifice of Abel, the younger son of Adam and Eve, that found favor in God's eyes and not that of Cain, even though Cain was the first to turn to God in a spirit of thanksgiving (Genesis 4:3-4). Divine rejection quickly led to human aggression. The episode foreshadows the pervasive preference for the younger brother which becomes the connective tissue of all the patriarchal stories.

 

Genesis 21:8-13

The child grew up and was weaned, and Abraham held a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

 

וַתֵּ֨רֶא שָׂרָ֜ה אֶֽת־בֶּן־הָגָ֧ר הַמִּצְרִ֛ית אֲשֶׁר־יָלְדָ֥ה לְאַבְרָהָ֖ם מְצַחֵֽק׃

 

Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing.

 

She said to Abraham, “Cast out that slave-woman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly, for it concerned a son of his. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed over the boy or your slave; whatever Sarah tells you, do as she says, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be continued for you. As for the son of the slave-woman, I will make a nation of him, too, for he is your seed.”

 

Genesis 25:24-28

When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first one emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau. Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born. When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp.

 

וַיֶּאֱהַ֥ב יִצְחָ֛ק אֶת־עֵשָׂ֖ו כִּי־צַ֣יִד בְּפִ֑יו וְרִבְקָ֖ה אֹהֶ֥בֶת אֶֽת־יַעֲקֹֽב׃

 

Isaac favored Esau because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah favored Jacob.

Genesis 37:1-4

Now Jacob was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan. This, then, is the line of Jacob: At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers, as a helper to the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought bad reports of them to their father.

 

וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אָהַ֤ב אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ מִכָּל־בָּנָ֔יו כִּֽי־בֶן־זְקֻנִ֥ים ה֖וּא ל֑וֹ וְעָ֥שָׂה ל֖וֹ כְּתֹ֥נֶת פַּסִּֽים׃

 

Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him an ornamented tunic.

 

וַיִּרְא֣וּ אֶחָ֗יו כִּֽי־אֹת֞וֹ אָהַ֤ב אֲבִיהֶם֙ מִכָּל־אֶחָ֔יו וַֽיִּשְׂנְא֖וּ אֹת֑וֹ וְלֹ֥א יָכְל֖וּ דַּבְּר֥וֹ לְשָׁלֹֽם׃

 

And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him.

 

Genesis 48:10-20

Now Israel’s eyes were dim with age; he could not see. So [Joseph] brought them close to him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see you again, and here God has let me see your children as well.”

 

Joseph then removed them from his knees, and bowed low with his face to the ground. Joseph took the two of them, Ephraim with his right hand—to Israel’s left—and Manasseh with his left hand—to Israel’s right—and brought them close to him. But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head—thus crossing his hands—although Manasseh was the first-born. And he blessed Joseph, saying, “The God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day—The Angel who has redeemed me from all harm— Bless the lads. In them may my name be recalled, And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, And may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth.”

 

When Joseph saw that his father was placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he thought it wrong; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s.

 

“Not so, Father,” Joseph said to his father, “for the other is the first-born; place your right hand on his head.”

 

וַיְמָאֵ֣ן אָבִ֗יו וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ יָדַ֤עְתִּֽי בְנִי֙ יָדַ֔עְתִּי גַּם־ה֥וּא יִֽהְיֶה־לְּעָ֖ם וְגַם־ה֣וּא יִגְדָּ֑ל וְאוּלָ֗ם אָחִ֤יו הַקָּטֹן֙ יִגְדַּ֣ל מִמֶּ֔נּוּ וְזַרְע֖וֹ יִהְיֶ֥ה מְלֹֽא־הַגּוֹיִֽם׃

 

But his father objected, saying, “I know, my son, I know. He too shall become a people, and he too shall be great. Yet his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall be plentiful enough for nations.” So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.” Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh.

Most parents have a favourite child, and it’s probably the eldest, according to researchers.

www.independent.co.uk, April 11, 2016

 

A study conducted at the University of California shows that out of 768 parents surveyed, 70 percent of mothers and 74 percent of fathers admitted to having a favourite child.

 

A total of 384 families were studied; with all participants living in a family with two parents and two children where the children were born within four years of each other.

 

The parents did not specify which child was their favourite, but results from the study suggest it is the older child who is normally preferred.

 

All children in the study were asked if they felt their parents treated them differently, and whether this affected their self-esteem.

 

Younger children were more likely to report having low self-esteem caused by their parents’ favoritism than first-born children, suggesting that it is generally older siblings who receive special treatment.

The study was led by Katherine Conger, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of California. Professor Conger said she was surprised by the results of the study, as she had assumed older siblings would be more likely to feel like they were being treated unfairly.

 

She told Quartz: “Our working hypothesis was that older, earlier born children would be more affected by perceptions of differential treatment due to their status as older child—more power due to age and size, more time with parents— in the family."

 

Recent studies looking at sibling relationships have also found that having a younger sibling makes you less likely to be obese, and that older siblings might be more intelligent than their younger brothers and sisters.

© 2016 by Rabbi David Paskin

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