By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
In reference to Yaakov Avinu’s relationship with his children, Chazal make a fascinating comment: One should never make one of his children different from the others, for on account of the extra two selaim of fine wool that Yaakov gave to Yosef more than his brothers, the latter become jealous of Yosef, which brought about the chain of events that ended up with our ancestors descending to (and suffering in) Mitzrayim (Shabbos 10b).
Tosafos is bothered by this statement. After all, Hashem had already told Avraham avinu that his descendants would have to suffer slavery in a land not their own (Lech Lecha 15:13); so, how could the Gemara imply that the slavery in Mitzrayim only came about as a result of the friction between Yosef and his brothers? Tosafos answers that, if not for the terrible conflict that erupted between Yosef and his brothers, the slavery would not have been as bad as it turned out to be. The Maharsha, on the other hand, insists that the story of Yosef and his brothers had zero direct impact on the eventual slavery in Mitzrayim. All the Gemara means, asserts the Maharsha, is that if we see that the hostility between Yosef and his brothers was the means by which the decree of slavery in Mitzrayim was brought about, then obviously that is a very negative thing. As Chazal say, good comes about through good, and bad comes about through bad (Taanis 29a).
Interestingly enough, Chazal do not seem to take Yaakov Avinu to task over the emotion that lay behind his preferential behavior. They do not say, “one should never love one of his children more than the others”. Rather, they address only the behavior; that one must not show preferential treatment.
This indicates, it would seem, that part of living as a Torah Jew is knowing how to successfully negotiate situations, dynamics, and scenarios that are less than optimal. Yes, we are definitely a People of high-aimers and oftentimes even over-achievers. We certainly strive to attain the lechatchilah as much as we possibly can. But apparently picture-perfect is not part of the human condition. Inevitably, there are going to be many, many junctures in life that we are forced to make the best of the bedieved.
And that, perhaps, is the point that Chazal are driving home to us by focusing on Yaakov’s preferential behavior for Yosef instead of commenting on the emotions that stood behind that behavior.
If a parent, for whatever reason, has different feelings for one child than he does for the others, that parent might not be able to do anything about that. Is that an ideal situation? Certainly not. Should one try to change that? Perhaps. However, if one were to stubbornly fixate on the ideal of equal love for all, the results could potentially be disastrous. Simply because, at least for some people, the ideal may just not be attainable. And if in the parent’s mind the only option available is attainment of the ideal; well, then if he or she fails to attain that ideal, the result could be despair. And zero rectification of the issue at hand. An “all or nothing” attitude can be exceedingly harmful. As the saying goes, the perfect is the enemy of the good.
And it’s not only in the parent-child relationship where this point holds true. We are faced with the less than optimal in so many facets of life, spanning the entire range of our human and Jewish experience. In situations of bein adam l’atzmo, bein adam la’chaveiro, and even bein adam la’Makom.
Sometimes, things are not going to be ideal. They are not going to be exactly as we would have wanted, or precisely how we envisioned. Sometimes it’s just going to be a bedieved. And while, yes, we definitely do strive for the ideal, for the lechatchilah, to the utmost that we can; we do, at the same time, need to be cognizant of the fact that, sometimes, less-than-optimal is where things will stand, and we need to be able to successfully negotiate that.
(The next step is coming to a place of embracing that immovable bedieved as a lechatchilah, borne of the awareness that, if this is the situation that the Master Choreographer has assigned me, then, obviously, this must in fact be the most optimal situation for me. But that is a discussion for another time.)