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November 28, 2015 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Vayeshev

This week’s Torah portion begins the story of Joseph and his brothers.  The story should be pretty familiar to most culturally literate Jews: Joseph dreams that his family bows down to them.  Brothers hate him as a result.  Right? Wrong.

Arama sees it a little differently.  The Torah mentions this hate before it mentions the dreams, but after it mentions Jacob’s love for Joseph (Gen. 37:4).  He therefore suggests that “Jacob’s love for Joseph precluded Jacob from loving them…Being aware of the status of Ishmael in Abraham’s household, and Jacob’s own status in Isaac’s household, when compared to Esau, his father’s favorite, the brothers concluded that they themselves were to be excluded.”

In other words, the family’s tradition of sibling rivalry had led the brothers to think of parental love as a zero-sum game  – a situation bound to lead to bad feelings, if not to violence.

More broadly, the zero-sum fallacy has infected societies in a wide variety of other contexts, such as religious intolerance (the idea that my religion can’t coexist with yours), socialism (the idea that wealth causes poverty) and its opposite number on the far right (the idea that anything that benefits the poor must be bad for everyone else).

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