Jeffrey Kobrin
Looking to the Parasha to Inspire Our Parenting

Keeping Score

Lest we forget, all our kids constantly keep score.  They watch, listen and record everything we do and say, and they are ready to read us back the record on a moment‘s notice.  And they are especially scrupulous in recording our interactions with their siblings.

Yosef’s brothers, in our Torah portion of Vayeshev, most certainly kept score.  Yaakov singled out his son Yosef with a special gift, and the brothers took notice.  Yosef also took notice too; he too kept score.  This gift made him feel special, gave him license to start telling his dreams of superiority to his brothers, which did not help his situation.  Rabbi Yehudah Herzl Henkin in his Chibah Yeteirah notes that Yosef kept wearing his coat: the brothers tore it from his body when they threw him in the pit after he came to find them in Dotan.  Who wears a fancy coat on a shepherding errand?  A score keeper.  And who becomes infuriated by such an action? The score-keeping siblings.

This is important to remember the week before Chanukah, a time when many of us have the custom to give gifts to our kids.  But there are so many other “gifts” that we give our children all the time of which we need to be cognizant, if only because they and their siblings are keeping score.

When we attend one child’s dance recital and miss (often for excellent reasons) her brother’s little league game, they keep score.  When we tell one his 85 on the spelling quiz was amazing and don’t make a fuss over his sister’s A on the science paper, both are keeping score.  Remember that Yosef only began to tell of his dreams and inspire hate in his brothers after receiving the coat from Yaakov.  And they hated Yosef, notes eighteenth-century exegete Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai in his Chomat Anokh, not because of his dreams, but because they knew their father loved him more.

Writer Yvonne Liu describes re-watching Everyone Loves Raymond last year for the show’s twenty-fifth anniversary.  It was painful for her to watch the interactions between TV brothers Raymond and Robert Barone.  She quotes them verbatim: “It’s like you said: Mom loves me more,” Ray says.  “She can love you all you want because I love her more than you do,” Robert retorts. “You take her for granted. I cherish every ounce of affection that woman gives me because I have to fight for it like a dirty dog on the street.”  Liu viscerally connects to that exchange: “Well said, Robert, I thought, as tears welled, watching the essence of my upbringing play out onscreen.”  The impact of our actions and words on our kids is immeasurable – and can be both uplifting as well and unintentionally hurtful.  

As we celebrate the holiday of light, of bringing Hashem’s presence back into a darkened place, let’s be cognizant of the score-keepers in our families, and use this time as a reminder to love each of them for who they are, and to recognize each of them in their own way.

Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach.

About the Author
Jeffrey Kobrin is the Rosh HaYeshiva/Head of School at the North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, New York. He has bachelors and masters degrees in English literature from Columbia University, semikha from RIETS at Yeshiva University, and a PhD in English education from Columbia University’s Teachers College. He lives in Riverdale, New York, with his wife, Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin, and their daughters.
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