For the week ending 27 November 2010 / 19 Kislev 5771

Parshat Vayeshev

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Yaakov settles in the land of Canaan. His favorite son, Yosef, brings him critical reports about his brothers. Yaakov makes Yosef a fine tunic of multi-colored woolen strips. Yosef exacerbates his brothers’ hatred by recounting prophetic dreams of sheaves of wheat bowing to his sheaf, and of the sun, moon and stars bowing to him, signifying that all his family will appoint him king. The brothers indict Yosef and resolve to execute him. When Yosef comes to Shechem, the brothers relent and decide, at Reuven’s instigation, to throw him into a pit instead. Reuven’s intent was to save Yosef. Yehuda persuades the brothers to take Yosef out of the pit and sell him to a caravan of passing Ishmaelites. Reuven returns to find the pit empty and rends his clothes. The brothers soak Yosef’s tunic in goat’s blood and show it to Yaakov, who assumes that Yosef has been devoured by a wild beast. Yaakov is inconsolable. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Yosef has been sold to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s Chamberlain of the Butchers. In the Parsha’s sub-plot, Yehuda’s son Er dies as punishment for preventing his wife Tamar from becoming pregnant. Onan, Yehuda’s second son, then weds Tamar by levirate marriage. He too is punished in similar circumstances. When Yehuda’s wife dies, Tamar resolves to have children through Yehuda, as this union will found the Davidic line culminating in the Mashiach. Meanwhile, Yosef rises to power in the house of his Egyptian master. His extreme beauty attracts the unwanted advances of his master’s wife. Enraged by his rejection, she accuses Yosef of attempting to seduce her, and he is imprisoned. In prison, Yosef successfully predicts the outcome of the dream of Pharaoh’s wine steward, who is reinstated, and the dream of Pharaoh’s baker, who is hanged. In spite of his promise, the wine steward forgets to help Yosef, and Yosef languishes in prison.


Dressed To Kill

“…a fine woolen tunic…” (37:3)

Modern day Caesarea is Israel's answer to Beverly Hills (and looks suspiciously similar to it.) It's difficult to find a house in Caesarea that doesn't have a swimming pool, but although the houses are sumptuous, running the gamut from the merely luxurious to palaces that the Borgias would have killed for (mind you, the Borgias would kill for a glass of Chianti), the dress of the inhabitants is uniformly abysmal.

Out of these palaces traipse their fabulously rich owners, dressed in flip-flops, tank-tops, and above-the-knee cut-off jeans. About as sartorial as a scarecrow.

We live in an era where "dressing down" is de rigueur. Even the President of the United States likes to appear in a golf shirt. In fact, apart from Head Waiters and Maitre D's, formal suits are rarely seen on anyone, except for politicians.

Contrast this to is where I live, a few minutes from Beit Yisrael and Meah Shearim. As with most religious neighborhoods in Israel, few architectural prizes will be garnered by these neighborhoods this year. (That is apart from the notorious "Egg Boxes" in Ramot, designed for trendy seculars. The project won a prestigious architectural award but the apartments proved to be “unlivable” and were snapped up at bargain basement prices by the Orthodox community)

Religious housing is as drab as its inhabitants are princely. On Shabbat, out of these 'modest' (to put it nicely) dwellings emerge people dressed like royalty — whether they are wearing the crown-like shtreimel of the Chassidic world, or a black Fedora or Homburg. Religious Jews dress to kill.

The children are outfitted like princes and princesses in contrast to their secular peers, where the pre-pubescent already wear the jaded jeans and expressions of the worldly-before-their-time.

At one time, even the secular world had some idea of the dignity of dress. Before the war, no BBC newscaster would be allowed to open his mouth unless he was wearing a dinner jacket and a black bow tie – and that was on the radio.

But that all seems to have changed.

In this week's Torah portion, Yaakov makes Yosef a fine woolen tunic, sometimes translated as "a coat of many colors."

This garment was a sign of leadership. After Reuven had disqualified himself by his inappropriate behavior by moving Yaakov's bed (35:22), Yaakov elevated Yosef to the status of the "first-born".

This garment symbolized his leadership status.

The Jewish Princess is an aging canard, an easy target for comedians – mostly Jewish. Truth be known, we are all princes and princesses, just some of us haven't discovered that inherent nobility and would prefer to ennoble their houses instead.

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