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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

12. Narcissistic Family Patterns and the Cycle of Trauma

Updated: Jan 22

Parshah Vayechi

TL;DR of the Text

Major Themes

  • Why hadn’t Jacob met his grandsons?

  • Parental favoritism as a weapon to perpetuate dysfunctional family patterns

  • Why do Joseph’s brothers fear him so much?


*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.


Genesis 48:8-11*

“Then Israel saw Joseph’s sons and he said, ‘Who are these?’

And Joseph said to his father, ‘They are my sons whom God has given me here’...

Now Israel’s eyes were heavy with age, he could not see; so he brought them near him and he kissed them and hugged them. Israel said to Joseph, ‘I dared not accept the thought that I would see your face, and here God has shown me even your offspring!’”

By this point in Jacob’s life, he had already lived in Egypt for 17 years. How is it possible Jacob, with his reputation as the ultimate family man, didn’t recognize the offspring of his own favorite son? 


The rabbis cling to Jacob’s blindness as an excuse for his unfamiliarity with Joseph’s sons, but this explanation doesn’t compute once we reach the final sentence. In spite of his blindness, Jacob seemed shocked and overjoyed to meet Joseph’s offspring. He wouldn’t have used this language if he had known Joseph's sons before this moment. Either Joseph was so derelict in his familial duty he didn’t even bring his sons to meet their grandfather, or Jacob neglected his fatherly duty to meet his grandsons. 


Genesis 49:23-24*

“They embittered [Joseph] and became antagonists; the arrow-tongued men hated him. But his bow was firmly emplaced and his arms were gilded, from the hands of the Mighty Power of Jacob - from there, he shepherded the stone of Israel.”

Half-Baked meme. A guy working at a fast food restaurant saying "Fuck you, fuck you, you cool, fuck you I'm out!"

When we realize Jacob is the one who proclaimed all of this, the reference to “the Mighty Power of Jacob” becomes much funnier. Frankly, most of the deathbed blessings sound ridiculous, featuring mortifying castigations of Simeon, Levi, and Reuben, combined with creepy references to Joseph’s handsomeness. 


Jacob’s relationship with Joseph exemplifies how unhealthy family patterns perpetuate themselves. Jacob, a dysfunctional and emotionally abusive man, ignored his other sons by appointing Joseph as his Golden Child. In turn, Joseph took advantage of the famine to deprive Egypt’s citizens of their land, livestock, money, and freedom and went on to receive a double portion of Jacob’s inheritance. 


Jacob’s relationship with Joseph exemplifies how unhealthy family patterns perpetuate themselves.

Genesis 49:26*

“The blessings of your father [Jacob] surpassed the blessings of my parents to the endless bounds of the world’s hills. Let them be upon Joseph’s head and upon the head of the exile from his brothers.”

Quite passive-aggressive of Jacob. Imagine all 12 sons gathered around their father’s deathbed, some having already been humiliated by their father because he used his deathbed to remind everyone of the most shameful parts of their lives. According to the passage, Jacob then gave Joseph 100% of Jacob’s blessings, emphasizing the blessings were intended for Joseph not only because of who he was, but also because Joseph suffered at the hands of Jacob’s other sons. 


Genesis 50:15-18*

“[Joseph’s brothers] said, ‘Perhaps Joseph will nurse hatred against us and then he will surely repay us all the evil that we did him.’...Thus shall you say to Joseph: ‘Oh please, kindly forgive the spiteful deed of your brothers and their sin for they have done you evil’; so now, please forgive the spiteful deed of the servants of your father’s God.’ And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 

His brothers themselves also went and flung themselves before him and said, ‘We are ready to be your slaves.’”

Oh boy. On the surface, this scene depicts forgiveness, but I can’t ignore the question lurking underneath: How poorly did Joseph treat his brothers for them to feel the need to offer themselves up as slaves? 


How poorly did Joseph treat his brothers for them to feel the need to offer themselves up as slaves?

*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

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