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Parashat Vayeshev

12/08/2017 02:48:43 PM


Yosef's "garments" seem to play a crucial role in the narrative of Parshas Vayeishev. It was the special fine robe that Yaakov gave to Yosef that spurred the brother's resentment and jealousy towards Yosef.  In fact, when the brothers decide to act upon their antipathy and throw Yosef into a pit, their first move is to strip him of his special robe and source of their frustrations.  Ironically, Yosef's clothes are highlighted later in the Parsha, when Potifar's wife grabs Yosef's clothes in her attempts of seducing Yosef.  In display of tremendous strength, Yosef leaves his garment in her hands and flees outside.  Both Potifar's wife and the brothers strip Yosef of his garments and are left holding them in hand while Yosef himself moves forward in life.   

What is the meaning behind Yosef's garments? The Sefas Emes explains that in a broader and conceptual sense, garments are metaphoric for all external effects that potentially shape a person's image and identity.  Although there may be core values and innate personality that define a person's essence, there are so many diverse layers of "clothing" that can be worn on the outside that shape the overall image in a novel twist.  Clothing theoretically can exist in different forms and synonyms- there are many "costumes" that seek to hide an inner identity, styles of "attire" that promote a specific approach, tastes of "elegance" and pride, and all sorts of designs that strikingly flaunt and parade.  A person's unclothed image versus their clothed image may seem to be two completely different perceptions, an often confusing facet of life. In the pristine idealistic sense of the world, there are no "clothes," as we find inherent in the fact that Man was created naked with his essence self-radiating and explicit prior to his sin.  Only the new "Man" who exists in the concealed and fake world of sin is forced to grapple with a repressed essence that finds different garments to shape its image.  As scary as it appears, our bare essence can seem to afford us with infinite possibilities, and it is sometimes the choices of "clothing" that we wear that ultimately guides our lives.  Even further compounding the issue, unlike our actual shirts and pants, we are able to wear many layers of metaphoric shirts and pants simultaneously which may not always match too well.  The paradox of clothing lies within how it is so superficial and deep at the same time.

Yaakov took Yosef's pure essence and gave him a special robe to wear, a robe of good Jewish righteousness and pride that Yosef embraced and cultivated to make him appear as a spitting image of Yaakov.  The Yosef clothed in that robe was a source of jealousy for his brothers, who sought to remove that "robe" from Yosef and expose the plain Yosef who they claimed was no better than them.  Succeeding in their mission, the brothers reveal a plain Yosef and send him along to Egypt to a new context with different clothes hanging in the store-fronts. Immaculately assuming his new role as Potifar's servant, Yosef dons new Egyptian clothes to acclimate to his surroundings, creating a different Yosef who wears these different robes.  It was this Yosef clothed in Egyptian style that was so enticing and desirable to Potifar's wife, and this was therefore the deeper meaning of how she grabbed his garments in trying to seduce him.  The Midrash says that at that point Yosef conjured up the image of his father which caused him to leave behind his garment and flee.  In introspective fashion, Yosef remembered his self in a different robe, the robe of his father's ways that made him seem so apart from the self that Potifar's wife now so desired.  It was at this point that Yosef literally and figuratively "leaves his garments" in her hands and extricates himself from her grasp.  Life continuously throws various clothes at us for us to don, and as we grow and fall with them, we still try to connect to our inner selves and try to find the right type of external element that will elevate the pure essence inside.

Wed, January 27 2021 14 Shevat 5781