One of the differences between an Esau and a Jacob is that the former goes where he chooses and where he will see the place of his liking and the latter waits for the only heard promise the invisible G-d of Israel has given him. It is the difference between Hellenistic and Hebrew thinking. When Joseph was seventeen his father Jacob was at the respectable age of 108 years.
Becoming a father of your youngest sons at age 91 with Joseph and age 99 with Benyamin is something impossible for most of us. At the time it was not abnormal for men and women to become that old and still get children. What was special was that Joseph received prophetic dreams, which made him a worthy member of the family with prophetic men like Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov and women like Rivkah.
The dreams which repeatedly came to Joseph were that people would bow down to him. I don’t know whether you have the experience of not being liked by your family because of your living faith and your great destiny, but these dreams did not make Joseph popular in the eyes of his brothers. His father Ya’akov kept these matters in his heart (37:11).
The present of the beautiful multi colored garment which Jacob had given to Joseph made the situation worse. Jacob had not so much given the garment because he liked Joseph so much. After the incident in which Reuven, the oldest and firstborn son born from Leah, had a relationship (35:22) with his father’s concubine Bilhah, the firstborn son of Jacob’s other wife – not concubine – Rachel was to become the oldest and the leader, namely Joseph. Of course this set off power struggles in the family. Traditions are important and nice, but nasty when they steal your comfort and power away, they must have thought.
Hatred can grow into feelings of murder. Murder literally or murder as mentioned in texts like Leviticus 19:16, “You shall not go around among your people as a slanderer. You shall not try to take the life of your neighbor. I am the Lord.” Joseph’s brothers tried to kill him but they did not succeed. Joseph became more than a conqueror in this family struggle. And his brothers grew also in maturity as a result of it.
Whatever Joseph encountered, his brothers who sold him as a prisoner, a woman who brought him in to deep trouble, people who bothered him with questions about their dreams while he was imprisoned, famine and being responsible for the country he was leader of as well as the surrounding world, he did everything he did for the higher cause. He knew his principles and he knew what he wanted. He was convinced of the fact that the G-d of his fathers controlled his life. And that kept him going in the midst of the greatest difficulties. Wonderful inspiration for all of us.
Lion S. Erwteman, Rosh Kehilla at Beth Yeshua