Bible Says What?! ‘Jacob was a terrible father’

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Bible Says What?! ‘Jacob was a terrible father’

Rabbi Charley Baginsky looks into the Torah and picks out a controversial topic, giving a progressive response

Sephardi Torah scrolls
Sephardi Torah scrolls

Of all the Torah’s patriarchs and matriarchs, Jacob is the most difficult to see in a constantly positive light.

A brief summary of his life sees him usurping his brother’s birthright by tricking their dad, before going on  to father children by four women and then favouring one of those sons  so much that the other 11 sell him into slavery.

The fate that befalls Joseph is one of the starkest examples of the many sibling rivalries in the Bible, as he is thrown in a pit and then sold by his brothers, who subsequently tell Jacob he has been killed by a wild beast.

While the brother’s actions are obviously shocking, you again have to question the actions of Jacob – fresh from his betrayal of Esau.

Not only are his sons out of control, but the Torah tells us that a big part of their motivation was that “they saw that their father loved Joseph more than any of them”.

In the Torah, for once, there are happy endings all round.

Again cutting a long story short, Joseph forges his own identity, becomes Vizier (the second most powerful person in Egypt after Pharaoh) and is reconciled with his brothers and father. Jacob moves to Egypt, where he lives with all 12 children until he is the ripe old age of 147.

But what we can learn from Jacob’s parenting skills, or lack thereof? As practically a single father of 12, the Torah gives no indication of Jacob ever chatting through his problems with other people. Maybe this was his biggest mistake.

In 2019, with isolation becoming a real issue for people of all ages, community is more important than ever. Receiving support and comfort from those in a similar position to ourselves is vital to stop us repeating the same mistakes of our most flawed patriarch.

Rabbi Charley Baginsky is Liberal Judaism’s director of strategy and partnerships

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