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Parashat Vayeshev 5778: Wrappings and essence

This week’s Parashah speaks a lot about clothing, about essence and external wrappings. We have two main heroes: Joseph, who will wear a beautiful “technicolour dream coat”, then the clothes of a head servant, then those of a prisoner and finally those of the deputy Pharaoh. We also have Tamar, who wears clothes of a bride, then of a widow, then a prostitute and finally a mother.

Joseph received a special coat, a gift from his father marking him as the favourite son. We could think that the coat and the special treats are the essence of Joseph. Indeed, his brothers will think so and stain the coat with blood to try to erase that essence.

Potiphar will dress him with the fancy clothes of a head servant and Potiphar’s wife again will think that’s his essence, and therefore she will keep at the end only the clothes, the wrappings. Even in jail he won’t be convinced that those prisoner clothes are his essence, he knows better.

And we also have the story of Tamar. After her husband’s death, Judah will dress Tamar with wrappings of death, widow’s clothes, and she, against the norms of her time, takes off those clothes. At the end, she will force Judah to recognize her true essence (haker na, recognize please, she said) and through her, Judah recognises his own essence, maybe preparing him to meet again his brother Joseph in a couple of weeks from now.

Judah, without intending to do so, takes both, Joseph and Tamar, out of their wrappings into the light, shows their true essence. He sold Joseph as a slave, but in a couple of Parashiot he will get close to him, vayigash, and will move him to tears, taking off the mask of the Egyptian, and showing the true essence of Joseph.

That same Judah who condemned her daughter-in-law to be an eternal widow believes her wrappings of prostitute and, again without intention, redeems her through pregnancy. A double redemption, both from physical death by fire and from death in life as an eternal widow. New life brought light and happiness. From this redemption came King David and someday, for this lineage, the final redemption in the hands of the Messiah.

Joseph and Tamar, both committed to their true essence, didn’t comply with the wrappings that others tried to push on them.

The thing is that, sometimes, we do need these wrappings in life, as they are the voice of the essence, give it form. The problem appears when the wrappings betray the essence, when the masks we use, and we all use them, depart too far from who we really are. We must be always aware of who we really are and, as with Joseph and Tamar, our essence will lead us to a life of redemption.

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