On Account of a Coat


That Moses’ name is not mentioned even once in the Haggadah is one of the fascinating paradoxes in our tradition. But why doesn’t Joseph’s name appear? Not only are the Patriarchs named in the Haggadah, but the entire Exodus story can be traced back to the sale of Joseph by his brothers. Now it’s true that Joseph’s presence does hover over the seder, albeit in a subtle form; we don’t have to go any further than the karpas (the parsley or potato) on the seder plate. There are Sages who link the word karpas to the story of Joseph.

In Rashi’s commentary on the verse [Genesis 37:31] in which Joseph’s coat of many colors is mentioned (the K’tonet Passim), Rashi writes that the word passim “denotes a cloak of fine wool,” quoting a verse from Megillat Esther about the rich embroidery of King Ahashverosh’s palace: “There were hangings of white, fine cotton (karpas)” [Esther 1:6]. Note the presence of “pas” in both passim and karpas.

Rabbenu Menoah explains that the karpas at the seder, “recalls for us the coat of many colors,” which angered the brothers who then sold Joseph into Egypt. This idea is also discussed by Rabbi Solomon Kluger in Yeriot Shlomo, his commentary on the Haggadah, saying that the only reason we were in Egypt was the selling of Joseph. Also, after the lamb was sacrificed in the Holy Temple, it was then brought to the place where it was going to be eaten. A Braita discusses how the animal was slung over one’s shoulder in its skin. To this discussion, R. Ilish adds one word, “Tayot,” [Pesachim 65b] which Rashi explains refers to the manner in which Ishmaelite traders transport animals.

R. Ilish’s comment (as interpreted by Rashi) steers our mind back to another group of Ishmaelite traders who appeared on the horizon at a crucial moment in Joseph’s life, providing Judah with the opportunity to declare: “What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood? Come let us sell him to the Ishmaelites” [Gen. 37:26-27]. Without those Ishmaelites, Joseph never would have ended up in Egypt.

Another seder link to Joseph is in the charoset, also featured on the seder plate. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi, the blend of apples, date and wine into which we dip the maror (bitter herbs) symbolizes the brothers dipping Joseph’s coat — the k’tonet passim — into goat’s blood, compounding their evil by allowing their father to believe that Joseph had been devoured by a wild beast.

The Joseph story involved two areas of mistakes. The first resulted from Jacob favoring Joseph [Gen. 37:31]. Jacob may have felt justified in his love simply because Joseph was the child of his beloved Rachel. Joseph may well have been the most talented, the most brilliant, the most obedient of all the sons. Nevertheless, the sibling rivalry Jacob put into play opened up a can of worms that we are suffering from to this very day! Our lack of unity has its origins in the divided house of Jacob-Israel.

But on seder night, each and every father is given the opportunity to turn things around. With the entire family gathered around the table, with all the preparation and hard work creating an atmosphere of intense awareness — the Haggadah allows the father to put certain ideas into practice — an equality and love between the children. This may not be an easy task, but it is of immeasurable importance. Every child deserves to be loved and accepted unconditionally!

On a simple level, the youngest child, often the most overlooked, is given a measure of affirmative action this night, starting with the honor of asking the Four Questions. The seder then moves on to the Four Children, but just as important as the issues they raise are their differences. What becomes clear to us — particularly in our generation — is the fact that they are all there, lovingly included in the seder, including the Wicked Child, whose cynical questions must be softened by familial affection. This means that we, the parents, have a chance to look at our children around the table and give each one the love that he or she needs and deserves!

The Talmud declares that it’s forbidden for a father to single out one child over the others, citing Jacob as a negative example [Shabbat 10b). Indeed, failure in this regard leads to broken families, brothers and sisters who don’t speak to each other, resentment, pain, disgrace, and all kinds of emotions that fracture family unity.

On seder night, every parent becomes a teacher; every father must remember Jacob’s mistake. This is the first “dipping.” The second “dipping is that the fundamental sin of the Jewish people results from causeless hatred, demonstrated by the brothers’ hatred of Joseph, resulting in exile and slavery. Only if we overcome this other aspect of our lives do we have a chance to begin mending the rips and cracks in our national fabric.

The seder not only looks backwards but forward, as well. The family elders have to be sensitive to sibling rivalry, finding ways to acknowledge the uniqueness of each child. And if we succeed on this level, implanting family structures that are loving and sharing, protective and caring, then the ground is being paved for the coming of the next Redemption.

Candlelighting, Readings:

Candles: 7:12 p.m. (Fri);
7:16 p.m. (Tue.); 8:17 p.m. (Wed.)

Torah: Ex. 33:12-34:26 (Sat.); Ex. 13:7-15:26 (Wed.); Deut. 15:19–16:17 (Thu.); Numbers 28:19-25 (all days)

Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:1-14 & Song of Songs (Sat.); II Samuel 22:1-51 (Wed.);
Isaiah 10:32-12:6 (Thu.)

Havdalah: 8:13 p.m. (Sat.); 8:19 p.m. (Thu.)