Is It Proper To Have A Favorite Child?
Our sages (Shabbos 10a) state: “One is not to favor one child over one’s other children, because Yaakov favored Yosef and fashioned for him a kesones passim – a multi colored coat, which incurred his brothers’ jealousy. This resulted in our forefather’s descent to [the slavery of] Egypt.”
Many psychologists and other experts in the field of childrearing caution against differentiation between children, when it is clear that it will lead to strife in the family. In fact any parent will find this advice not only wise but also as plain as day is from night to be correct.
Yet we find numerous instances of such favoritism in our Torah. Avraham coaxed by Sara to favor Yitzchak, Yitzchak and Rivka each choosing favorites [Rivka ultimately wins] and King David coaxed by Batsheva to choose a favorite, Shlomo. In all of these cases the result created sibling jealousy.
We even find that Hashem Himself chooses a favorite, as Rashi (Bereishis 1:1) explains; Hashem chose Israel to be His favorite people, the very cause for creation. Thus we are known as the “Chosen People.” No doubt this has invoked much of our suffering throughout the ages. Notwithstanding we understand and cannot question Hashem’s purpose in creation and our specific role in this world. All of the cases referred to above delivered a specific result not only sanctioned but also deemed by Hashem as necessary for the development of the Jewish nation.
The result is that Hashem teaches us that at times there will be a favorite as certain children and their parents develop a bond that is unique to them. Some parents have tendency to dote upon the “easy and loving child,” while others might find greater favor in the “brilliant child.” That is only natural. Nevertheless, there is great need to weigh in the wise counsel of our sages, and at least attempt to treat all children equally if one wishes to promote strong filial love in his/her family and at the same time give each child a strong feeling of emotional self worth.
– Rabbi Yaakov Klass, Torah Editor, The Jewish Press; Rav, K’hal Bnei Matisyahu,
Flatbush, Brooklyn: Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.
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Emotions cannot be fully mandated. While a parent should certainly strive for identical emotional connections with each child, it is only natural for those connections to differ in character and strength. All sorts of variables enter the equation: gender, personality, place in birth order, and more.
Unlike emotions, however, behavior can be controlled. One of a parent’s most important challenges, therefore, is to make each child feel fully appreciated, cherished and loved. Each child is a unique soul, granted to our care by HaKadosh Boruch Hu. Our job in a nutshell? To help that specific child optimize his/her singular potential.
We must nurture each child along the path that is solely theirs, without comparing that child against the yardstick of another sibling’s path. Any favoritism that we may feel for one of our children, even against our will, must be hidden from them all, so that each child will feel equal love and support.
Commenting on the story of Yaakov Avinu and his sons, the Talmudic scholars quote in the name of Rav:
“A person should never treat one son differently from his other sons; for on account of two sela’ms’ weight of fine wool that Yaakov gave to Yosef in excess of [what he gave to] his other sons (a reference to Yosef’s ketonet passim), the matter evolved and our forefathers descended to Egypt.” (Shabbat 10b)
Tellingly, the Talmud does not forbid us from feeling differently about our children. Instead, the rabbis maintain that we should not treat them differently. Sometimes, in spite of all our efforts to find the good in each child, we will still feel closer to one or the other. Instead of dwelling on the potential guilt raised by such feelings, we should exert all our effort towards ensuring that, from their perspective, all our children feel equally loved by us.
— Rabbi Goldin, author of “Unlocking the Torah Text”
series and past president of the RCA.
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No. It is a terrible idea to have a favorite child, and demonstrating favoritism is even worse as Chazal (Shabbat 10b) underscored: A person should never give preferential treatment to one child because of the two sela of fine wool Yaakov gave only to Yosef, his brothers became jealous, the matter unfolded, and our ancestors descended to Egypt.
Yet, is it possible that a parent should not feel that a particular child is the favorite? After all, parental love in the first instance is an extension of self-love and it is natural, on some level, to feel a special bond with the child whom we feel is the most perfect expression of our personality, values, conduct or world view.
Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, zt”l, (Ein Ayah, Shabbat, Volume I, 1:20) explains that we were given sechel (intellect) in order to properly govern our affairs and curb our natural emotions. Nonetheless, the intellect cannot be so dominant that natural emotions are entirely suppressed. At that point the regashim, the emotions, have to assert themselves. He continues, somewhat counter-intuitively, that it is the intellect that would induce a parent to play favorites among the children when the parent observes that a particular child is more talented or more virtuous. At that point the natural emotion of the parent – to love each child equally – must predominate and subdue the inclinations of the intellect that favors making distinctions.
Yaakov’s approach had a happy ending but only because it was Hashem’s will. Most families in which parents play favorites are not so harmonious and bad feelings – between parents and children and between the siblings – are the inevitable result. Of course, it is certainly healthy if each child feels he or she is the favorite. That is indicative of good parenting.
– Rav Steven Pruzansky is rav emeritus of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, NJ,
and the Israel Region Vice-President for the Coalition for Jewish Values.
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No. The Talmud specifically instructs us: Rava bar Machisaya said that Rav Chama bar Gurya said that Rav said: A person should never distinguish one of his sons from among the other sons by giving him preferential treatment. Because, due to Jacob giving Joseph the weight of two sela of fine wool in making him the striped coat, more than the amount he gave the rest of his sons, his brothers became jealous of him and the matter evolved [into them selling Joseph into slavery] and our forefathers descending to Egypt (Shabbos 10b).
This is cited as a halachic ruling in the Rambam (Hilchos Nachlos, end of chapter 6) and Tur (Choshen Mishpat 282): Our Sages commanded that a person should not differentiate between his children in his lifetime, even with regard to a small matter, lest this spawn competition and envy as happened with Joseph and his brothers.
(Some commentaries wonder why this halacha is not cited in Shulchan Aruch, however that does not weaken the ruling in the Rambam and Tur based on the Talmud.)
This gives us a clear directive, that though a parent may be inclined to favor one child over another, we need to avoid any such behavior in order not to cause any jealousy among siblings.
– Rabbi Simon Jacobson, renowned Lubavitch author and lecturer