April 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

‘You’re Going Out Wearing That?’

The strained relations between Yosef and his brothers could not have escaped Yaakov’s notice. As such, why would Yaakov send Yosef to check on the brothers? Surely a servant could have been dispatched instead. Nor could Yosef have been oblivious to the brothers’ feelings. So why did Yosef set forth on this mission wearing the כְּתֹ֥נֶת פַּסִּֽים, or “special garment,” his father gave him.

Although the nature of the garment is subject to debate, it is generally accepted that it denoted a special status and was of special material quality. It was not likely to have been the most suitable garment to wear on a journey. Indeed — at the beginning of the third aliyah — after we are told that the brothers removed Yosef’s coat, the pasuk continues stating the special garment was removed. ((וַיְהִ֕י כַּֽאֲשֶׁר־בָּ֥א יוֹסֵ֖ף אֶל־אֶחָ֑יו וַיַּפְשִׁ֤יטוּ אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ אֶת־כֻּתָּנְתּ֔וֹ אֶת־כְּתֹ֥נֶת הַפַּסִּ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָלָֽיו (27:23). Multiple commentators understand this pasuk to mean that Yosef was wearing not only the special garment, but an additional coat. So, if the special garment was not suitable for travel, and was very likely to antagonize the brothers, why wear it?

Further, Rashi on parshat Vayigash brings down the midrash that the last conversation Yaakov had with Yosef concerned the procedures of eglah arufah (decapitated calf). The eglah arufah ceremony is performed by city elders when a murder victim is found in proximity to the city, but the murderer is unknown. From the eglah arufah ceremony, we learn of the obligation to escort visitors a distance when they depart. Although the relevance is apparent, could not Yaakov have selected a more uplifting halacha to teach Yosef, before he set out on the mission?

Perhaps the laws of the pilgrimage festivals, for that would involve travel in pursuit of performing a mitzvah. Here, also would Yosef be traveling in pursuit of performing a mitzvah, that of honoring his father. Why select the somewhat morbid eglah arufah topic, as Yosef’s sendoff?

Although no one would think city elders were murderers, they are — nonetheless — obligated, as part of the eglah arufah ceremony, to declare that they were not responsible for shedding the deceased’s blood. They make this declaration because of their indirect responsibility. The elders failed as leaders to properly educate the populace about the need to assist and escort that solitary soul, who ended up being murdered.

Yaakov intended Yosef to, eventually, assume the mantle of family leadership. The special garment was a symbol of that anticipated role. Yaakov was not unaware of the divisions within his family. His purpose in sending Yosef to the brothers was for Yosef to heal the rift. He wished Yosef to exercise leadership qualities. He wanted Yosef to manifest the leadership strength of being able to initiate peace efforts. Thus, Yaakov’s departing lecture to Yosef concerned the demands and obligations of leaders as it relates to others. If leaders are responsible for the peace and security of unknown strangers to a city, how much more so are they responsible for that to their own family. For this reason, Yosef sets forth on the mission wearing the special garment that denoted leadership while also wearing a garment more suitable for long distance travel. Indeed, Yaakov — in dispatching Yosef — instructs: “Go, I pray you see (to) the peace of your brothers and the peace of the flock and return to me word … ” (27:14).

Yaakov was anticipating that Yosef would make peace with his brothers and return back bringing words of peace. The error in the plan was placing the obligation to bring about peace on his son. Yosef was not yet the leader of the family. It was Yaakov’s obligation to orchestrate the resolution. The deferral or abdication of responsibility is a recipe for disaster. This is manifested in the parsha — not only in Yosef’s ill-fated mission, but in the actions of Yehuda’s sons. Yehuda’s sons failed to discharge their responsibilities and for that they were punished. Yehuda — on the other hand — takes responsibility. He acknowledges his failure and, in so doing, displays true leadership. It is that strength of character, which enables him to be the progenitor of Mashiach.

May we also live up to our responsibilities to Hashem and to our brethren and, thus, bring about Mashiach’s arrival quickly, speedily, soon and in our days.


William S.J. Fraenkel received a Bachelors of Arts in Religion and a law degree from NYU and served as a Board member and officer of several orthodox shuls. The opinions expressed in this dvar Torah are solely his own.

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