Clothes to kill for
Tuesday, 05 December 2017 | 17 Kislev, 5778
If ‘clothing makes the man’, sometimes it can also kill the man! The story of Joseph can be seen as a man betrayed or at best greatly endangered by his clothing. I am of course referring to the “ketonet passim”, the magical dream coat given to Joseph by his father.
It is the coat which singles out Joseph and gives him an initial edge over his brothers. They rightly read into the coat their father’s favouritism and their brother’s narcissism. The coat and the dreams are the two symbols of Joseph’s differentiation and undermining of their family. It is therefore not surprising that Chapter 37 which begins with a dream and a magical garment ends with the “master of dreams” enslaved and the coat in tatters.
The furious hostility and jealousy of the brother is directed as much at Joseph himself as it is at the hated cloak. In an atavistic frenzy the brothers tear off Joseph’s coat and immerse it in blood. Their actions replace any attempt at communication; it is a tragic indictment of families that descend into violence without attempting to speak to each other: They see Joseph “from the distance” and without attempting to speak or find out what message he has brought from home decide to kill him.
They then thrust the coat into Jacob’s face taunting him with his folly of having singled out Joseph: “Please recognise it, is it your son’s tunic or not?” Jacob replies “My son’s jacket! A savage beast devoured him! Joseph is torn in pieces” (Gen:37:32-33). Aviva Zornberg tellingly interprets this scene when she writes that the poignancy of the moment lies not in deception but in the accurate, if unconscious, decoding of the symbolism of the coat. They tear from Joseph the superlative individual quality that they envy
Joseph is stripped not only of his coat but also of his teenage arrogance and this moment marks the beginning of his rebirth. No longer will he be the naïve and precocious sibling, the spoiled and favoured son. Now he will have to discover his strength and identity stripped of the trappings of wealth and indulgence. In his little poem, “A Coat",the poet W.B. Yeats refers to a coat that “the fools caught”, he continues” let them take it. For there’s more enterprise in walking naked”
Reduced to his bare essentials, Joseph discovers that it is G-d not his ego at the centre of his dreams. He also recognises the pain of others and is able to understand their dreams.
A coat like a dream is an outer layer that hides an inner reality. The challenge is to discover the many colours and subtle hues that lie beneath the surface.