Hebrew In Israel | Clothing and Vanity – Learn Torah

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Hebrew In Israel | Clothing and Vanity – Learn Torah

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In Genesis 37:3, the Torah tells us that Jacob gave Joseph a – כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים KToNet PaSSiM, the nature of which has baffled many people.  In reading on this subject I have found several interesting opinions:

  • It was a striped shirt
  • It was a long tunic that came to the knees or ankles; hence “pas” refers to the length of the arms and legs.
  • A garment made of many stripes which covered both legs and arms.
  • A complex garment that was long and colourful but had an extra fringed scarf that was wrapped diagonally from the waist to the knee.

A discovery made in the temple of Zimri-lim of Maari (18th century BCE) might shed some light on the matter.  A wall relief was found depicting men wearing tunics made of uneven colourful stripes with gold leaves as ornaments.  This type of garment was called “kitu pisannu” (notice the resemblance in name), and was a ceremonial garment for ritualistic ceremonies.  Another finding is a statue of the goddess Nana wearing an embroidered robe with golden ornaments (Oppenhime 1949).

The Vanity In Joseph’s Action

As can be seen, there is one distinct idea behind this garment, and it is the fact that it was not a regular piece of clothing.  It was used to honor gods and men, and hence should be seen as a symbol of status. This status could have been that of a first born, and Jacob marked Joseph with his gift to him.  Based on the above, it is possible that Jacob gave Joseph a ritualistic garment which Joseph wore all the time, and was a symbol of Joseph’s status.  If the garment was ritualistic, then one would not be surprised at the brothers’ reaction and defilement of the garment.  For Joseph to wear a garment which is to be worn only at special times all the time, was a form of vanity.  The brothers were being taunted by Joseph’s behavior, and wanted it gone.

A Lesson Taught Through A Story

I find it interesting that Joseph later in the story is accused of a forbidden sexual act with a garment being the key evidence in the accusation.  It is possible that the story was composed in a manner where a garment is central in the story line, and might hint the previous story with the brothers and to his problematic behaviour.

The tool used by the text is called a “motif”, and is used to connect points in a long story to create a message being sent to the reader.  In this case I would argue that the message is that though God gave Joseph (and any leader for this matter) his rights, he needed to understand that to be a leader of his family, he must learn to be pious.  Joseph, who held a high position with the brothers, should have known better.  He is sent in exile, and is presented with a false accusation which stands in contrast with the accusations he made against his brothers.  He is unrightfully accused of a wrong and evil deed, of which a garment is the main evidence.  By this we are taught that it is the inside of the leader which counts, and not the outside show.

A righteous king is one who puts his people before himself and honors his people by being kind to them.  Joseph had to go through great turmoil to become a better and stronger man for the benefit of the world, and to teach him to understand those who are less fortunate than he, something he did not understand earlier in life.  God did not put him through all the suffering for no reason, and intended greater things for Joseph and his people through the learning experience.


אַשְׁרֵיךְ אֶרֶץ, שֶׁמַּלְכֵּךְ בֶּן-חוֹרִים; וְשָׂרַיִךְ בָּעֵת יֹאכֵלוּ, בִּגְבוּרָה וְלֹא בַשּ

Blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time– for strength and not for drunkenness. Eccl 10:17


Image: Mari frescoes Louvre museum; Public Domain


Originally Published:  17 December 2016

One comments


December 20, 2019 at 12:22 am

Interesting. Thank you

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