This week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev (Gen. 37:1-40:23), begins with Jacob and his children settling in the land of Canaan. Jacob loved his son Joseph—the elder of his beloved wife, Rachel—more than all the others and favored him. Not surprisingly, his brothers hated him. Taking advantage of an opportunity, they threw him into a pit, (where he was later taken by traders and sold into slavery in Egypt) took away his coveted coat of many colors, ripped it to shreds and stained it with a goat’s blood, and brought it to their father Jacob, saying only, “recognize this?” Jacob, accepting the misdirection that his sons intended, leaps to the conclusion that his son has been devoured by a wild animal. He tears his clothing and mourns Joseph’s supposed death until the time, many years later, that he learns that Joseph is not dead at all, but has risen to great power in Egypt.
It is worth remembering that, several chapters ago, Jacob himself carried out a deception that also involved a goat or two. In Genesis 27, he and his mother Rebekah colluded in the charade in which he covered himself in goatskins to pose as his brother Esau so that he would receive his father Isaac’s blessing. Jacob’s sons deceive him just as he deceived his father Isaac, and it happened for the very same reason – favoring one child over another. The trickster Jacob has himself been tricked once again.