The stories of Yaacov and Yoseph echo each other: “These are the chronicles of Jacob – Joseph…” begins the second verse of this week’s sedra. Whatever happened to father happened to son: Jacob was hated by his brother, and Yoseph was hated by his brothers. (Bereshis Rabbah 84:6). And in both cases it came down to a coat.
Yaacov loved his son Yoseph and gives him a כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים, katonet pasim, a coat of many colors. Much has been written about this coat, even a catchy broadway musical, but what interests me is that in the Torah, this special coat is embellished with a doubled Pei.
Superficially, I’m tickled that the very word that describes the decoration of the coat is itself decorated. (Just a note – the doubled Pei occurs on the second mention of Yoseph’s coat (Gen. 37:23), not the first). But why does the Torah record this seemingly insignificant detail about Yoseph’s new clothes, and why does this letter appear in relation to it?
One idea: the doubled letter Pei is itself called “lefufah”, rolled up. Could this be why the Targum Yonasan writes that this particular woolen tunic was so fine and light that it could be rolled up and hidden in the palm of a hand?
While he doesn’t comment on this particular appearance of the unusual letter, we know from the Baal HaTurim’s other explanations that the doubled Pei often represents duality. The letter Pei, which literally translates to ‘mouth’ also represents verbal transmission – such as the telling of stories from generation to generation.
Yaacov knew that Yoseph would grow to be a leader. Pasim, פַּסִּים, says the Baal HaTurim, was the means by which Yaacov hinted to Yoseph that he would rule for 80 years of the 110 of his life, as פּ = 80 and 110 = סים. Sforno writes that Yaacov bestowed the beautiful coat as a sign that he would be the leader in the house and in the field, based on a verse from Bava Kamma 11b, “The Brothers are content that the eldest brother wear the finest clothes so that he be respected”.
But the brothers were not content. As an inexperienced youth, his father’s favorite, who likely felt untouchable, Yosef spoke ill of his brothers, dreamt and seemed to gloat over grand dreams, and went about in his gorgeous coat. Yosef’s ten older brothers could not even speak to him in peace, and in fact stripped him of his coat, throw him into a pit, and almost killed him – but decided in the end to sell him into slavery. There is a letter missing when the Torah tells us how the brothers spoke to Yoseph – the word ‘peaceably’ לְשָׁלֹם – is defective.
וַיִּרְאוּ אֶחָיו, כִּי-אֹתוֹ אָהַב אֲבִיהֶם מִכָּל-אֶחָיו–וַיִּשְׂנְאוּ, אֹתוֹ; וְלֹא יָכְלוּ, דַּבְּרוֹ לְשָׁלֹם.
And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him. (Gen. 37:4)
Because לְשָׁלֹם is written without a vav, the gematria (numerical value) of the word comes to 400. From this the Baal HaTurim teaches that the lack of peace between Yoseph and his brothers caused the 400 years of enslavement that the Jewish people were prophesized to endure in Egypt.
Once rid of him, Yoseph’s brothers took his coat and dipped it in blood. They tricked their father into believing that his beloved son had been mauled by a wild animal. As a youth himself, Yaacov had deceived his own father by wearing his brother Esav’s cloak to take on the mantle of birthright and blessing, and now he was deceived by his own sons.
Clothing continues to deceive when Yoseph is tempted by Potifar’s wife in Egypt, and though he runs away from her she grabs his garment and uses it to “prove” that he molested her, getting him thrown in prison. Yoseph’s fortune changes with his clothes again when he is brought out of prison before Pharaoh to interpret the king’s strange dreams.
Ultimately, it is this katonet pasim, coat of many colors, which initially causes the simmering sibling rivalry to boil over in jealousy and hatred. But centuries later it is the coat again that brings redemption to the Jewish people.
Remember the doubled Pei on the word Pasim? This letter is a hidden layer in Yosef’s coat. There is a Midrash (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 48) which tells that the secret of Redemption transmitted from the Patriarchs down through the generations was tied to the five letters of the Alef Bet that have two forms: kaf, mem, nun, pei, and tzadi. Each of the five pairs is connected to a different redemption, and it is the letter Pei that was used twice regarding the redemption from Egypt, in the phrase Pakod Pakadeti פָּקֹד פָּקַדְתִּי (Exodus 3:16), when G!d speaks up in remembrance of the Jewish people.
One of the reasons that the Jewish people merited redemption from Egypt was that they maintained three central forms of their own identity: Their Jewish names, their Hebrew language, and their Israelite clothes. The double Pei of Yoseph’s coat, the כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים, could be alluding to the double Pei of the פָּקֹד פָּקַדְתִּי redemption, because maintaining distinctive dress as apart from the Egyptians was an important element of earning redemption.
While Yoseph was stripped of his coat, his family, his identity, and his freedom in one fell swoop by his brothers, he regained what was lost to him. The same thing would happen to his descendants when they would become enslaved and redeemed. As Yoseph’s life echoed Yaacov’s, so too did the coming generations echo the lives of their fathers.
This is the dual nature of the double Pei and of the katonet Pasim: clothing can be used to deceive or to display one’s true identity. Where clothing was once used to beguile a pattern of Jewish parents and children, where once siblings sought to kill each other out of jealousy, the descendants of Yaacov – Bnei Israel – grew to behave differently in Egypt, even in the darkest of times.
Because Am Yisrael was able to repair that which was broken between Yosef and his brothers, in that they maintained their identities and created strong bonds of fellowship with each other, they left Egypt as a people united, brother with brother, moving forward to face the future – clothed in courage.