From Parshat Vayeishev to the end of Sefer Bereishit, we read the story of Joseph and his brothers. From the very beginning we are plunged into a drama of sibling rivalry that seems destined to end in tragedy.
By any standards it was a shocking episode. Jacob had settled on the outskirts of the town of Shechem, ruled by Hamor. Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, goes out to see the town. Shechem, Hamor’s son, sees her, abducts and rapes her, and then falls in love with her and wants to marry her. He begs his father, “Get me this girl as my wife.”
Even before they were born, Jacob and Esau struggled in the womb. They were destined, it seems, to be eternal adversaries. Not only were they different in character and appearance, they also held different places in their parents’ affections.
Abraham, the Sages were convinced, was a greater religious hero than Noah. We hear this in the famous dispute among the Sages about the phrase that Noah was “perfect in his generations,” meaning relative to his generations:
It is the hardest passage of all, one that seems to defy understanding. Abraham and Sarah have waited years for a child. G-d has promised them repeatedly that they would have many descendants, as many as the stars of the sky, the dust of the earth, the grains of sand on the seashore. They wait. No child comes.