We read how Jacob on his death bed, switches his hands round to bless Ephraim the younger son of Joseph over Ephraim the elder. We are bound to ask why Jacob had not learnt from Joseph’s fate how dangerous it can be to favor one son over others. You might say that Yaakov by then had realized that favoring Yosef in fact had turned out to be a good thing although it caused a lot of pain in the process. Still this clear favoritism of a younger child strikes us as strange.
Favoritism runs through the Book of Bereishit. It started with God preferring Abel’s sacrifice to Cain’s. God preferring Noah to all the rest. Then Abraham favors Isaac over Ishmael. Isaac favors Esau. Rebecca favors Jacob. Jacob favors Joseph and this week Jacob favors Ephraim over Menashe. And then is going to favor Judah and Joseph over the other tribes. The consequences played out over the next 1000 years of Jewish history as the tribes argued and fought, split into two rival states until eventually they merged under the tribe of Judah, to become Jews (as well as Children of Israel).
Priests were indeed aristocratic dynasties. But they were not meant to be the political powers. And although under the Greeks they were the political heads, it was only for a short time during which many of them completely betrayed their spiritual roles. But on the whole, after the end of the Judean kingdom, and allowing for descendants of the royal household of David to hold honorary positions, meritocracy of learning and piety became the dominant, preferred pattern of leadership.
The fact is that children are different and some are abler or better suited to certain tasks or careers than others. We must recognize and value talent and hard work that do differentiate between the successful and the less successful. We should not expect everyone to be the same. The important thing is that everyone has equal rights. Not that everyone must be the same. However, the one thing we must not do is to make one child feel less loved or valued than another. And that is a challenge all parents and all spiritual leaders have to face and deal with.