(This week. The Lauviticus Consortium of Scribes is delighted to welcome Julie Seltzer of the Storahtelling Tribe as a Scribe! Thank you for your juicy contribution!)
‘Tis the season for bundling up, dressing fancy and going to parties – but this week’s storah peek is actually at what it’s like to be naked – as naked as truth. There seems to be a distinct link between the craving for lavish costumes and the need to unwrap the cover up, and go behind the mask to reveal the hidden. While Last week’s torah tale featured the birth of Benjamin, and this week we are fully focused on his brother – the one famous for a coat of many colors, AND for what he had going elsewhere. A brief recap of the Genesis Saga brings us to VaYeshev – the tragic telling of how Jacob tried to settle down quietly in Canaan, only to discover that his beloved son and spiritual heir, Joseph, is reported missing, presumed dead, with only a bloody coat to serve as witness. While Jacob is mourning, Joseph, betrayed by his brothers, is trafficked to Egypt, where he ends up a slave in the house of Potiphar, a Courtier of the King. And, while her husband is tending the king, Potiphar’s wife tends to Joseph and tried to de-robe him
(Joseph is “well built and handsome” [JPS], “fair of form and fair to look at” [Everett Fox]).
She tries the verbal seduction approach before grabbing hold of his garment (in Hebrew: BEGED). Rejected, she then uses this BEGED, this article of clothing, as “evidence” that Joseph tried to rape her, landing the dreamer in jail, again.
Genesis 39:16: ‘And she placed his garment by her side, until his master came home.’
The word BEGED appears here 6 times in 7 verses, forcing special attention to its presence, pointing us to the underlying truth by screaming out, “I’m a lie! Look underneath! Look deeper inside! I’m concealing something!”
One possible clue is found in the root of the word for GARMENT—BGD—exactly the same as the word for BETRAYAL. Joseph’s garment represents an act of betrayal that covers up the truth, just as his robe does when Joseph’s brothers dip it in animal blood to cover up their crime.
The garment as object of betrayal could, perhaps, voice a familiar (if timely) reminder to not get too hung up on the latest fashions. But here too, there’s much than meets the eye. (As if sharing a root with the word for “betray” weren’t enough, the text hints at another layer of meaning: the word BEGED is composed of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th letters of the alphabet, forming a mirror image of the letters that make up the word “lie,” SHEKER, which are the second-to-last, third-to-last, and fourth-to last letters whereas the letters for “truth,” EMET, form a perfect triangle made up of the first, middle, and last letter of the alphabet.
So what does Joseph’s coat have to offer us at this annual time of its re-appearance? Perhaps a reminder to look deeper than the garment and the outer, and perhaps that we all want to get naked – to get at the naked truth, to fully know ourselves, for others to fully know us, and for us to know them. Even the way we share stories begins with an undressing: we prepare to share our most sacred stories by first removing the garment and revealing the unrolled, naked Torah scroll. Just as the Torah has a protective skin—without which the truth would be too overwhelming to access—we also need clothing for our souls. Though somewhat counterintuitive, creating and presenting ourselves through garment cover costume – is a way of accessing and sharing our nakedness.
Every time Joseph’s coat is taken off him, a new destiny and identity awaits him; like a snake, he grows new skin.
What, this time round, is your garment? And what’s between it and your naked truth?
Think about that after lighting the romantically inclined Chanukah Candles.