When Siblings Fight

Toldot: A resource for families.


Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Sibling rivalry occurs in all families with more than one child. It can, in many cases, be an insidious problem, and many parents are at a loss at how to deal with it. 

In our Torah portion, sibling rivalry becomes a lethal drama, with parents who–instead of putting a stop to the dynamic–actually participate in the competition to advance their favorite child. Esau, as the eldest son of Isaac and Rebekah, stands to obtain the preferred blessing of the eldest. However, Jacob, with his mother’s help, presents himself to his dim-eyed father pretending to be Esau. Isaac gives Jacob the blessing reserved for the eldest, believing he is Esau.

sibling fightWhen Esau discovers this terrible deception, he cries a heart rending cry and says, “Do you have but one blessing, my father?” Isaac at first refuses this request, saying that the blessing has already been spent on Jacob, but then relents and blesses Esau also. Yet Esau seethes with resentment at his brother. Jacob runs away from home to escape his brother’s wrath, never to see his parents alive again.

Most sibling problems do not reach these mythic proportions. Yet even on a more limited scale, they can be pretty intense. Maybe there is something we can learn from the rather extreme example the Torah offers us.The key is in Esau’s words, “Do you have but one blessing, my father?” The answer, in fact, for parents is “no”. Each of us, has many blessings to offer, and each child needs different kinds of blessing from his parents.

Focusing on what each child needs rather than on distributing our attentions fairly can sometimes take the edge off the competition between siblings. We as parents might be better off starting from the realization that the love that we have to give is not a limited commodity which we divide equally, but rather an endless blessing that is received differently by each of our children.

about the problem of sibling rivalry.
·    Do you ever feel that things are unfair between you and your brother and sister?
·    Do you feel that your place in the family birth order (first, middle, last) put you at a disadvantage? 
·    Do you feel your gender has put you at a disadvantage?

© Copyright 2010 Joyce and Fred Claar

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Dianne Cohler-Esses is the first Syrian Jewish woman to be ordained as a rabbi. She was ordained in 1995 at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is currently a freelance educator and writer, teaching and writing about a wide range of Jewish subjects. She lives in New York City with her journalist husband and their three children.

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