(Torah Portion Vayaishev) Mom’s Cooking
Greetings from the beautiful and Holy City of Jerusalem! Came to attend the Bris of our grandson Yissachar Dov – Dovy!
I am quite sure that everyone has heard of ‘Joseph’s multicolored coat.’ I would like to discuss what it was all about. The Torah tells us that our forefather Yaacov had a special love and affinity towards his son Yosef, and made for him a special Kesones Passim – a fine wool or silk tunic.
The words of the Torah imply that his father Yaacov actually made it for him. The question can be asked, why did his father make or tailor it for Yosef? Although Yosef’s mother Rachel had died and she wasn’t around to sew, we know that Bilah her maidservant assumed her role to look after Rachel’s children. Why didn’t she sew the garment?
Yaacov had a special relationship with Yosef because Yaacov knew through Divine inspiration that Yosef would go though situations and challenges similar to those he himself went through, and he shared and taught Yosef the special tools and techniques he learned through the Torah he studied and the experiences he had.
Commentaries explain, that besides conveying these lessons to Yosef, Yaacov also took material and sewed it to fit Yosef and while doing so he infused it with special Kavanah – intent that the garment should serve as a spiritual protection for Yosef. Only Yaacov himself with his holy intent could transform this inanimate garment into something that could protect Yosef through the trials and tribulations he would face.
The Torah relates that Yosef’s brothers became jealous of him because of his preferred treatment and because he related his dreams alluding to the fact that he was going to reign over them. The brothers convened a court to judge him for contempt, ruling that he should be killed; but instead they sold Yosef.
Instead of telling their father about Yosef’s whereabouts, they stripped Yosef’s special tunic and dipped it into goat’s blood and presented it to Yaacov. Yaacov figured that Yosef must have been attacked and killed by a beast. Yaacov was inconsolable for all the 22 years Yosef was gone.
One of the commentaries explains that the brothers didn’t strip Yosef of his coat only because it was recognizable. They also knew that it was made by their father with great intent and had in it special powers of protection. They took it away from Yosef, as if to say, “If you claim you are going to reign over us and portray prominence, let’s see if you can do it by yourself, without the assistance from the special garment!”
At the end, we see that Yosef, despite living in the decadent Egyptian society and continually being challenged both spiritually and morally, remained righteous. He is appropriately called Yosef Hatzadik. It was the teachings and image of his father that kept him on track the entire time. Our righteous and correct teachings of Torah always serve to protect us in all our challenges. We find something somewhat similar concerning the Prophet Shmuel. After ten years of being childless, the Prophetess Chanah was blessed with a son Shmuel. The verses state that Chanah made a M’eil – an adult type of garment for her very young son. This garment actually grew together with him and he wore it his entire life. (He was even buried with it.)
The Radak explains how this garment received its vitality. “Due to his mother’s extreme love and spiritual aspirations for Shmuel, with all her tears and love that she put into its creation, it became a living entity of love and kindness. It carried Shmuel and permeated within him a love for G-d and his fellow, and wherever he went to spread the word of G-d the M’eil grew together with him – this was all because it was made by his mother with such deep spiritual love.”
This concept of an inanimate object receiving vitality – may seem foreign to us, but the idea of infusing Kavanah – intent into the inanimate is certainly very familiar within our tradition. A few examples: The writing and creation of a Torah scroll, a Mezzuzah and Tefilin, has to be done with holy and pure intent. A Get – Jewish divorce has to be written with the specific intent of the parties’ names and for the purposes of divorce. The threads and creation of the tassels of Tzitzis has to be done with specific intent. Without this aspect of specific intent of the Mitzvah, the letters and materials remain unproductive in its effect on the Mitzvah. While it may appear similar to that which was made kosher and authentic, this missing essential ingredient renders it unkosher.
If we think about it, so much has been written about the positive effects of family units sitting down together at the dinner table. Most of the focus in these studies is on the discussion and interaction between parents, children and siblings. With what we discussed concerning the positive effects of proper intent that goes into preparation and creation, we can add, that a home cooked and prepared meal, whether during the weekday or for the Shabbat, is invested with the special value of the mother’s love or the preparer’s intent – to properly feed and nourish their family. The positive effects of this are enormous; it becomes literally part of our bodies, remaining with us for a long time!
Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks