Posted on March 23, 2011
by Sylvie Grossbard
Parashat Vayeshev tells the story of Yosef, his “colored” coat, his descent into Mitzraim (Egypt), and his interpretation of Pharaoh’s cup-bearer’s and baker’s dreams in prison. Yosef is described as being Ya’akov’s favorite son in just the third verse of the parashah: Ya’akov loved Yosef more than any of his other sons because he was the son of [Ya’akov’s] old age, and he made him a kind of tunic. (B’reshit 37:3). But what kind of tunic? And why does it matter what exactly Yosef wore? Why is it so special?
Various sources debate the nature of the k’tonet pasim. The midrash B’reshit Rabba suggests that “pasim” indicates that the cloak extended to Yosef’s wrists or ankles, or both. Whichever it was, the idea implied by this is that such a long garment would render one unable to perform manual labor. In many cultures, long clothing is a sign of wealth and status; of not having to do manual labor; and indicates importance and superiority.
The Torah does say that Yosef shepherded his father’s sheep along with his brothers (B’reshit 37:2). Yet when he wore his k’tonet pasim, Yosef would be greater than his brothers would. Thus, according to the Talmud (Shabbat 10b), Yosef’s brothers grew jealous of his elevated status and came to hate him. Their hatred drove them to sell him into slavery in Mitzraim, which led to the immigration of B’nai Yisrael and their subsequent enslavement. They fled to escape famine and settled there until a new pharaoh feared their numbers and enslaved them. God had foretold this in His blessing to Avraham, that his descendants would be strangers in a land that is not theirs. However, the Talmud suggests that God used this favoritism in the chain of events to teach a lesson by showing the disastrous effects of favoring one child over another. Because Ya’akov chose to elevate one of his sons above the others, B’nai Yisrael became slaves in Egypt, and although this story ended happily with the entrance into Eretz Yisrael, the end did not come until after numerous years of brutal slavery.
Although we are not old enough to be parents, we are old enough to consider how we treat other people. Recognize how you behave towards every individual, and remember that hurting them by favoring another is just as costly to you and everyone else around you as it is to them. Of course, we should always be considerate for the sake of respecting people, but it often takes a realization of possible bad consequences for ourselves for us to understand the implications of favoritism.
Chag Chanukah Sameach!!