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husband and wife

There is nothing more rewarding than an unbreakable bond with a spouse. And when you do, even when things get tough, you get through it together. 

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Vayeishev” (Genesis 37:1–40:23); and in it we read the very turbulent story of Joseph and his brothers.

The first sign of trouble may very well be in the opening verses where we read that “Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his children.” We are told that this was because Joseph was a “ben zekunim.” Ben Zekunim is a somewhat mysterious word with a number of interpretations.

According to one interpretation, “ben zekunim” means a “son in one’s old age”, and indeed, Jacob had Joseph when he was much older. Joseph was Jacob’s 11th of eleven son. It is said that children that one bears when older are often more loved than their older siblings. This may be because such children are reminiscent of grandchildren, and let’s face it, we have a very soft spot for our grandchildren!

Another interpretation of “ben zekunim” is “a precocious child,” which means that Jacob spent a lot of his time teaching Joseph the Torah. This was a sign that Jacob favored Joseph over everyone else.

Truth be told, however, it seems that the first interpretation is the more accurate one. Indeed, the word “ben” means “son,” and the word “zekunim” means “old age.” The second interpretation barely has a fighting chance! But there’s still a problem. There was a child, Benjamin, who was born to Jacob after Joseph! It was Benjamin who was the true “son of old age.” So why is the title given to Joseph?

It is explained that although Benjamin was born even later, there were many years between the birth of Joseph and Benjamin during which Joseph was indeed the favorite “child of old age.” This affection was “stuck” – it continued even after Benjamin was born.

Perhaps there is something to learn from the Jacob-Joseph relationship. It seems from here that the way relationships are founded and nurtured is the way they will continue even when the dynamics change. Jacob had a love for Joseph that was unique at the time. Even when circumstances changed and Benjamin should have benefited or even replaced Joseph in that unique relationship, it never happened. Jacob and Joseph had become so close to one another, and another person coming on to the scene couldn’t change that.

We must learn from this and ensure that our relationships are strong and well rooted so that when things get stormy and difficult, we don’t lose our connection with our loved ones. This means we need to have a solid connection with our children, our parents, and perhaps most important of all, with our spouses. There is nothing more rewarding than an unbreakable bond with a spouse. And when we have such a bond with a spouse, even when things get tough, you get through it together.

Click below for more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion:





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