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The Essential Component of Jewish Continuity

The Multi Colored Coat

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

This week’s Torah portion describes the envy between Joseph and his brothers, “Sinat Chinam”, and to what extent that envy can damage even the greatest and holiest of families. The jealousy and hate that Joseph’s brothers had toward him motivated them to plot Josephs death and eventually sell him into slavery.



Amazingly, the Talmud blames Yaakov for the deeds of the brothers and even for the future course of the history of his descendants.

“One should never favor one child over his other children, for it was the mere two shekels worth of silk, which Jacob gave to Joseph over and above that which he gave to his other children, that caused the brothers to be envious of him, leading eventually to our forefathers’ descent into Egypt.” (Shabbos 10)

This multicolored garment, with which Yaakov showed special favor to his son Joseph, provoked the envy of the other brothers, and the rest is Jewish history.

It seems quite harsh to blame centuries of death and slavery on Yaakov who bought his son Joseph a coat! Maybe Yaakov felt that Joseph needed a special coat!

Later in the story after Joseph finally revealed his identity to his brothers the Torah records: “To each and all of them he gave a change of clothes, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five changes of clothes.” (45;22)

The Talmud rightfully asks: Joseph suffered so much because of his fathers show of favoritism. How can it be that Joseph himself can repeat this error by showing favoritism to his brother Binyomen?!

“R. Benjamin b. Japhet said: He gave him a hint that a descendant would issue from him who would go forth before a king in five royal garments, as it says, And Mordecai went forth from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue etc.”

Interesting, but what is the answer? Why did he repeat the error?

Perhaps Joseph was teaching his brothers this lesson.  “My brothers! Every one of us has a purpose and a mission in life. Yehudah – you will be the ancestor of King David; Yissachor - yours will be the princes of Torah; Levi - you will serve God and Israel in the Holy Temple; Benjamin – your descendant Mordechei will become the Viceroy of Persia and wear five royal garments; as for me – I am the Viceroy of Egypt. Why the jealousy? Each of us has a majesty, each of us has a dynasty. Our father Yaakov somehow understood that I should wear royal clothing so he gave me a multicolored coat, just as I understand that the clothing of Benjamin should be special.”
The criticism here was not about the favoritism of Yaakov. Yaakov was making a point about the individuality of his sons. The Talmud scrutinizes Yaakov for not pointing out the individuality and potential of each one of his sons. Why only Joseph?

Later, at the end of his life, Yaakov looks back at his life and corrects his error. Every son received a blessing. “Each according to his blessing did Yaakov bless them.”.

The lesson – look deeply into your children’s eyes and souls. Try to understand who they are and what they can become and tell them all about it. Explain to them how each person has their own individual life and mandate. Give everyone a coat that they can call their own.

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