Jacob and Joseph: Parallel Stories with an Important Message for All of Us.

The stories of Jacob and Joseph, which comprise the last half of the Book of Genesis, parallel each other in many important ways.

Both boys did nasty things to their brother (s) when they were young. Both had to leave home and had life changing experiences in a foreign land, Jacob in Haran and Joseph in Egypt.

Both Jacob and Joseph paid for their actions. Just as they mistreated their siblings, so others mistreated them.

Both Jacob and Joseph learned from their experiences and succeeded in overcoming the hardships they endured.

That is what makes them such important role models for us.

The great strength of the Hebrew Bible is that all of its heroes—and I consider both Jacob and Joseph to be heroes—are fallible human beings with very human failings. Because of that we can identify them and find inspiration for our lives in their stories.

If people who do the awful things that Jacob and Joseph both did to their brothers can learn from the hardships they endure and grow into productive adults who do important things to uphold God’s Covenant with us, so can we.

At the end of Genesis both stories come together. The conflicts in Genesis resolve themselves and the book ends, as it were, with everyone living “happily ever after.”

But the happy ending of Genesis is only a temporary. As Exodus begins our people find themselves enslaved and persecuted.

This paradigm illustrated by the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus has persisted through all Jewish history. We have lived in country after country where we were welcome and successful in society. Then the economy changed, and we became objects of suspicion and blame, persecution and expulsion or worse.

Jews have lived in North America for well over 200 years in comfort and relative security. But history demands that we ask: Will this tranquility endure?

My answer is I hope so. I believe that it will, but history’s pattern makes clear that we cannot allow ourselves to take-for-granted that our comfort in this land will be everlasting.

Because he was concerned for the long-term future of our people, Jacob needed God’s assurance before leaving the Promised Land for Egypt. Jacob’s concern is one of the key reasons he made Joseph swear to bury him in Israel. And yes, that is one of the key reasons that the survival and security of Israel is so important to Jews today.

I pray and trust it will never happen. BUT If—God forbid—our comfort level in this “land of the free and home of the brave” dissolves, may there always be a proud independent Jewish State of Israel to welcome us at any time we should need her.


(I hope you find the outline below of the parallels between the stories of Jacob and Joseph in Genesis instructive.)


I.   Jacob: Three Torah Portions

A. As a Youth

1.    Punk Kid

2.    Conflict with Brothers

3.    Sent Away


B.  Adventures Far Away

1.   Tricked and Deceived

2.   Succeeds despite Obstacles


C. Reconciles with Brother



II.    Joseph: Four Torah Portions

A. As a Youth

1.   Punk Kid

2.   Conflict with Brothers

3.   Sent Away


B.  Adventures Far Away

1.   Tricked and Deceived

2.   Succeeds Despite Obstacles


C.   Reconciles with Brothers




                 D. Jacob’s Life in Egypt

1.   Tying Both Stories Together

2.   “Happily Ever After”

3.   Stage Set for Slavery in Egypt




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