v’yeshev – Yoseph, Trounced upon by His Brothers

A quick perusal of English Torah translations demonstrate a difficulty in translating, k’tonet pasim (כתנת פסים), Yoseph’s coat of many colors. There can be found: “coat of many colors, coat of long sleeves, coat of long length and coat of stripes.” The word pasim (פסים) comes from the root PaSaH (פסה) meaning to spread or spread apart. In Psalms 72:16, this word means abundance. It also carries a sense of “what is widely spread apart” which is made evident by two related roots PaSaS (vanish – פסס) and /aPhaS (to be the end of – אפס). The word k’tonet (כתנת) is specifically a coat made out of felt, one that is compressed and matted together. Allegorically, the k’tonet pasim symbolized the act of compressing together or consolidating information about experience that is widely dispersed. While the peshat of the Torah gives us a foundation of ancestry, tradition, ethics and law that binds us to HaShem; the Torah’s allegory binds us to HaShem by demonstrating how to most effectively engage with and mentally process the boundless information, guidance and opportunities that can be found in experience.

As an archetype or a behavioral prototype, Yaaqov represents a person’s grabbing at what comes around and investigating it.1 From the Arabic, Rachel (רחל) means “one’s exploring experience while roaming about.” Apparently, a ewe (Rachel – רחל) wanders off when pregnant. In contrast, Leah means “one’s laboring exhaustively.” Rachel and Leah represent competing ways of engaging the information encountered in experience, while Yaaqov represents the processing of that information. In contrast to Rachel’s beauty, Leah is described as having weak eyes. Allegorically, her eyeings of experience were weak and fleeting.2 This is because laboring exhaustively cannot be sustained. On the other hand, exploring while roaming about (Rachel) takes little effort, but it is also consequentially, particularly ineffective. Prior to Rachel’s bearing Yoseph, Yaaqov’s other wives had bore him ten children. Each child represented a different way of gathering in data about experience. However, with the right adjuvant behaviors, even exploring while roaming about can be effective. In naming Yoseph, the text says that G-d’s guidance (Elohim) was remembering (being clear minded), attentive to and opening the womb of Rachel and gathering in (/aSaPh = אסף) [her] censure-taunt-what was sharply jabbing. The word ReHheM (רחם – womb), from the root RaWaHh (רוח – wide) means facilitating expansiveness for someone or something.3 These behaviors – clear mindedness, attentiveness, and being open to experience – are the supplemental behaviors required for a person’s roaming about to be an effective way of gathering in information. Therefore, allegorically Yoseph means “a person’s repeatedly gathering in another thing that is jabbing of G-d’s bringing forth of existence, in exploring while roaming about, being clear minded, attentive and receptive to G-d’s guidance found in experience.” For this reason, Yisrael4 (his visually fixing upon the many things advancing forward) loved him and made for him the k’tonet pasim, the act of consolidating information about experience widely dispersed.

To a large extent, the story of Yoseph is a story about his relationship with his brothers. The word for brother, /aCh (אח), most probably was derived from the root ChaWaH (חוה) which in Arabic means to join someone and to join the company of. Usually the allegorical meaning of a word is based on this type of etymological connection. However, sometimes the Torah makes up an artificial folk etymology. Because Hebrew uses the same letter symbol, ח, for two different consonantal sounds (Hhet and Chet), there is another חוה in Hebrew, (HhaWaH) which means to point out and instruct. Based on context, the allegorical meaning of the word brother (אח) comes from the similarly spelled root HhaWaH (חוה) and not the etymologically correct root ChaWaH (חוה). Allegorically, a brother is one who points something out or points the way. This works nicely with Yoseph, the person’s mental faculty that repeatedly gathers in instruction from experience for further mental processing. However, the text tells us that his brother’s were unable to speak with him peacefully, allegorically indicating the they were unable to direct him and instruct him in a satisfactory way. So Yoseph had two dreams about his brothers. In Arabic, the word for dream HhaLaM (חלם) also means to muse over and reflect upon something. In each dream, Yoseph’s brothers lay themselves out to him. This indicates that, as those who give instruction about experience, they are ultimately subordinate to his gathering in such instruction for further mental processing, for his musing and reflecting upon the instruction that they provide about experience.

After the dreams, the text tells us that “His brothers were going so as to shepherd the flocks of their father in Shekhem.” There is an Arabic cognate of the word Tson (צאן – flock) which also means “to consider.” The word father (אב – /aBh) comes from /aBhaH (אבה) which means “to willingly give forth of oneself” in Hebrew and “to take notice of” in Arabic. Although not always true, in this case the allegory follows the Arabic. The root ShaKhaM (שכם) means “to shoulder something” and is used to mean “to make preparations to set out, to venture forth and to make a diligent effort.” Putting it all together we have: “His mental operatives pointing things out regarding experience were leading the consideration of their taking notice of things, by venturing forth into experience.” Despite these attempts to instruct him, Yoseph was wandering about in the field and was unable to find them despite his searching for them. He even specifically asked: “Where are they leading?” Eventually, he finds them in a place called Dothan (דתן) which comes from the rarely attested root DuWT (דות). However, this root evolved from the root DuWSh (דוש)5 which means “to thresh and rake over something.” This implies that the instruction that they could provide about experience could be attained by repeatedly threshing and raking over the information. But just as his relationship with his brothers was one of struggle, so too do we often struggle to understand the enormity of instruction embedded in our every day experiences.

As Yoseph approaches his brothers (his mental operatives with the goal of instructing and directing him), they conspire to kill him and cast him into a pit. However, the word HaRaG (הרג) only means to kill in Hebrew and Ugaritic; in Syriac it means to muse over and apply the mind. Additionally, the word for pit (בור – BoWR) means a clearing and is closely related to the root BaRaR (ברר) meaning to make clear and sift out. The purported purpose of killing him and throwing him into the pit was so they may see “what shall be of his dreams.” But allegorically, those instructing him about experience wished to force him to apply the mind so as to make all of the instructions about experience clear, through his reflective musings.

R’uvaen wishes to save his life and instead instructs them to cast him into a particular pit in the midbar (מדבר – wilderness, place of flash floods). R’uvaen’s name is based on the seeing (Ra/aH – ראה ) of Leah’s affliction (\aNi – עני) and allegorically represents his seeing and feeling afflicted by an overwhelming amount of things in experience. Therefore, in saying “let us not knock down spirit,” R’uvaen seeks to keep his spirits elevated by limiting the amount of information that they would force him to process. His recommendation to cast him into “this pit that is in the midbar,” restricts the information to what is clearly apparent (זה – this)6 and that drives directly forward (מדבר – midbar).7 His brothers (his mental operatives instructing him about experience), strip him of his current notions about experience (his coat, previously consolidated information), cast him into the pit (the sifting of experience) and sit to eat bread (to embrace an engaging of experience) so that they might acquire more information about experience about which to instruct him.8 But when they were lifting up their eyes (their eyeings of experience), they were seeing “a long road of being attentive to things when advancing forward in experience, coming in from the revealing of what is evident in experience. And their acts of sucking in the information to completion were bringing up: a feeling of being knocked down, and a feeling of being narrowed in and a cursing associated with a feeling of hesitancy.”9 No wonder then that his father, representing his taking notice of things in desiring to give forth to experience, lamented that an evil wildness (of an overwhelming amount of instruction from experience) had consumed him.

The story now shifts from Yoseph to Y’hudah who is described as “descending away from his brothers.” However, because allegorically all of the characters represent different aspects of the same individual, this act of moving away from his brothers represents our hero’s moving away from what is instructing him about experience, due to their being overwhelming. When Y’hudah was born, his mother Leah named him saying הפעם אודה את יהוה “This time, I shall praise HaShem (G-d’s bringing forth of existence).” Therefore, we generally understand Y’hudah to mean Ya or G-d’s bringing forth of existence is praised. However, the word /oDeH (אודה – I shall praise), which comes from the root YaDaH (ידה – to point out) has neutral, positive and negative connotations. In a neutral context, it means to acknowledge. While in a negative context, YaDaH (ידה) means to blame or acknowledge guilt. Additionally, even though Pa\aM (פעם) means once or this time, its verb means “to be startled.” So in this context of his feeling overwhelmed by all of the instruction coming in from experience, Y’hudah means “his becoming startled in acknowledging G-d’s bringing forth of existence.” It is for this reason that Y’hudah’s first three children are named annoyed-irritated (ער – \aeR), complaining-reluctant (אונן – /oNaN)10 and indifferent-apathetic (שלה – ShaeLaH). They represent a gradual shift in his attitude toward this overwhelm of experience, from being maximally annoyed to eventually becoming indifferent to it as a means of avoiding it. Nevertheless, the archetype of Y’hudah has great potential because with acknowledgment as a basis, a person can transform blame into praise with a change of attitude and by making an effort.

Y’hudah finds a wife for his first child named Tamar (תמר – palm tree). This root TaMaR (תמר) meaning “to stand still and upright” evolved from the root TaMaH (תמה) meaning “to stand still in amazement, to wonder, to be stunned and undecided.” However, in Arabic TaMaR also means “to bear fruit, make a profit, utilize, and avail oneself of an opportunity.” So allegorically Tamar means “one’s standing firmly in wonderment, yet able to avail oneself of an opportunity.” Y’hudah is twice referred to as Tamar’s father-in-law (HhaMaH – חמה) which comes from a similarly spelled and rarely used verb meaning “to observe.” He represents an act of observation, one of becoming startled in acknowledging G-d’s bringing forth of experience. On the other hand, Tamar is referred to as kalato (כלתו – his daughter in law). From the root KaLaH (כלה – to complete, finish, perfect), she represents the perfecting of him, by standing firmly in wonderment, yet able to avail oneself of the opportunity.

Y’hudah’s first two sons (annoyed-irritated and complaining-reluctant) “were evil in the eyes of HaShem.” Allegorically, this means that they “performed badly in eyeing (observing) G-d’s bringing forth of existence.” So HaShem killed them off. Then Y’hudah instructs Tamar to return to her father’s house until his son Shaelah grows up. Because through the process of maturation, Shaelah, representing indifference and apathy, can become tranquility and being at ease. But when Shaelah does grow up, indicating that Y’hudah feels more at ease with experience, Tamar is not given to him. So Tamar veils herself and presents herself to him at Petahh \aynayim upon the road moving toward Timnah. In so doing, Tamar means to open his eyes (Petahh \aynayim) by threshing through experience (DaRaKh – דרך, road), moving toward a faithful assessment (Timnah) of experience. But Y’hudah’s difficulty in making a faithful assessment of experience lies in his becoming startled by what he acknowledges. To counter this, he promises to send forth a kid of the goats, representing a drawing away from acts of insolence (G’Dy \eeZim – גדי עזים).11 In order to guarantee this, Tamar insists on obtaining his seal (חתם – to push in, seal) representing his ability to push himself; his cord (פתל – to twist, become entangled) representing his ability to engage; and his staff (נטה > מטה – to incline, lean in) representing his leaning in with experience. But Y’hudah sends it by the hand of his friend, the Adulamite, a word closely related to the root \aDaL (עדל) meaning to find fault. Due to this continued negativity, he was unable to achieve it because there was no commitment from him to advance forward (Q‘DaeShah – קדשה) into experience.12 Ultimately, after Y’hudah’s recognizing that her standing firmly in wonderment, being able to avail oneself of an opportunity was more particularly correct (צדקה) than his being startled in acknowledging G-d’s bringing forth of existence, Tamar is able to perfect him and transform him. Their first child is named Perets (פרץ – to breach) indicating that his being startled and its associated insolence toward experience was breached. The second child named ZeraHh (זרח) alludes to his ability to shine forth and scatter into experience like the light of the sun.

Now that the person’s contempt and intransigence in the face of overwhelming experience has been breached and overcome, the story returns to his ability to repeatedly gather in instruction from experience, to Yoseph. He is brought down toward Mitsraim where he is acquired by the Overseer of the slaughterers (butchers) indicating that he is now distractedly focusing upon the many things narrowing in from experience (מצרים – Mitsraim),13 an act of overseeing14 the onslaught of experience. Throughout the story, he is referred to as Yoseph’s Adon. The word adon (אדון – lord), derived from the root DUN (דון – to abide) which also evolved into the word DYN (דין – to judge), literally means “one who abide’s in contemplation” and allegorically “one’s abiding in contemplation of experience.” Together, the two of them represent a person’s mentally engaging an overwhelming amount of experience. The person’s abiding in contemplation of experience takes in all that G-d’s bringing forth of existence creates. It embraces (eats) that aspect of experience closely and intimately engaged (לחם – bread)8 and the remainder of what is encountered in experience is abandoned into the hand of Yoseph, his repeatedly gathering in another thing that is jabbing of G-d’s bringing forth of existence, in exploring while roaming about, being clear minded, attentive and receptive to G-d’s guidance found in experience.

The text says: “It was after these things that the wife of his lord was lifting up her eyes toward Yoseph.” Because the word DaBhaR (דבר – thing, matter) literally means “what drives directly forward,”15 the frequently used phrase: “And it was after these things…” represents a barrage of experience advancing forward toward the observer. The phrase “the wife of his lord” allegorically means “the act of taking initiative with his contemplation of experience.” It was precisely because of the enormity of these things advancing forward in experience that Yoseph was unwilling to take the initiative and engage with them, with the initiative of his abiding in contemplation.16 Because he was afraid “to do this great act of poor performance and err with regard to G-d’s guidance found in experience.”17 Due to his refusal to engage her, she refers to Yoseph as an \eBheD \iBhRi (עבד עברי),18 a Hebrew slave, an act of devoting attention to experience that wanders about. To make up for this failure to act, his lord, his abiding in contemplation of experience, gave him to the Overseer of the house of confinement. The word for confinement (SoHaR – סהר) is cognate with an Akkadian verb meaning to search, a Syriac verb meaning to acknowledge, and an Arabic verb meaning to reveal and make well known. From the verb SuR (סור), meaning to twist around, it essentially means what surrounds as well as an act of searching, acknowledging and revealing what is surrounding. Now instead of wandering, Yoseph comes face to face with the information about experience that is readily revealed and more easily acknowledged, instead of the enormity of the onslaught of experience encountered previously.

Again we encounter the phrase: “And it was after these things…” representing another barrage of experience advancing forward toward the observer. This time two of Pharaoh’s overseers are put into confinement – his cup bearer (משקה – maShQaeH) and his baker (אפה – /oPheH). Based on a folk etymology, pharaoh (פרעה) means “a person’s chaotically going off in many directions so as to attend to many things.”19 As the king (MeLeKh – מלך) of Mitsraim, he represents a person’s deliberating20 over experience while distractedly focusing upon the many things narrowing in. Although translated as cup bearer, the word maShQaeH (משקה) literally means “one who channels” as in one who channels a drink into a person’s cup. He represents a person’s ability to mentally channel information. In contrast, the word /oPheH (אפה – baker) literally means “one who covers the face.”21 He represents a person’s avoiding experience or overseeing experience with averted eyes.

Unfortunately, a concise yet detailed analysis of their dreams, their way of musing over the details of experience, is not possible. In the end, the way of overseeing experience by channeling information was restored because of its effectiveness, but the way of overseeing experience by averting one’s eyes was suspended due to its ineffectiveness. With regard to both of their dreams, their way of musing over experience, Yoseph, the person’s repeatedly gathering in another thing that is jabbing of G-d’s bringing forth of existence, in exploring while roaming about, being clear minded, attentive and receptive to G-d’s guidance found in experience acts as the PoTaeR (פתר), the interpreter. The text says: “And the Overseer of the butchers (onslaught) was assigning (bringing up for the sake of performing a review) Yoseph, aligned with them. Such that he was ministering to (visually fixing upon) them.” This indicates that a person’s repeatedly gathering in from experience in being clear minded, attentive and receptive (Yoseph) performs as the mental faculty that both enables a person to make sense of all of what is encountered in experience and also has the responsibility of overseeing, supervising and reviewing other mental faculties with observational roles.

At the beginning of this parshah, Yoseph dreamed that he would prevail over and take control of his brothers, the mental faculties instructing him about experience, such that they would lay themselves out to him. However, initially Yoseph is lost and wandering about, unable to make sense of the instruction provided by them. Later, in an attempt to instruct him effectively about experience, they throw him into a pit so that he might sift through all of the information provided. But this overwhelming amount of information startles him and annoys him leading to his reluctance and indifference. Only after he was able to breach his negativity about the overwhelming nature of experience, was he able to avail himself of each opportunity encountered in experience. Now able to deal with each individual aspect encountered in experience, Yoseph performs his role as the faculty repeatedly gathering in from experience in being clear minded, attentive and receptive. He successfully contemplates what he was able to, gathering up the surplus for a later time. However, as a consequence of a barrage of experience driving directly at him and in being afraid of making an error regarding G-d’s guidance found in experience, he paused and refused to even initiate further contemplation. Instead, he focused on those things that were more proximate, things that could be readily revealed and acknowledged. Finally, he learned of the ineffectiveness of averting one’s eyes when deliberating over experience, when distractedly focusing upon the many things narrowing in, when going off in many directions so as to attend to many things. Only through the channeling of what comes in from experience in conjunction with the act of repeatedly gathering in from experience in being clear minded, attentive and receptive can one effectively mentally process experience. Having honed his abilities, he is almost ready to more directly confront his brothers, those mental faculties instructing him regarding the things encountered in experience. All that remains is for Yoseph, a person’s repeatedly gathering from experience (in being clear minded, attentive and receptive) to become the second to Pharaoh, a person’s chaotically going off in many directions in an attempt to attend to many things encountered in experience.

1 – Yaaqov (יעקב) from the root \aQaBh (עקב) which essentially means “to twist around.” Across the Semitic languages, this root is used to mean “to constrain, to follow, to come after, to trace, to approach closely, to investigate, to criticize, and to grab the heel (supplant).”
2 – fleeting (רכות) from the word RaKh (רך) generally means soft, weak, and frail; since it evolved from the root RuWHh (רוח), it has a sense of being like a puff of wind (RuaHh – רוח), which is not only soft but also fleeting.
3 – womb (רחם) which is why RaHhaMim also means bowels-intestines and compassion.
4 – Yisrael (ישראל) from the verb Sarah (שרה), from which comes the name Yisrael (ישראל). It does not exactly mean to wrestle, nor does its associated noun exactly mean princess. It means to fix on something either visually or physically. When to fix on something physically, it could be used to mean wrestle. When to fix on something visually, its male counterpart, Sar (שר), means an overseer, a member of the court. Additionally, El (אל) G-d, meaning one advancing forward with initiative such as in el (אל) to, toward; ayil (איל) ram forward; Ya/aL (יאל) to endeavor to advance forward allegorically can be used to mean “what advances forward” and “one’s advancing forward.”
5 – Dotan (דותן). This root is only found in the story of Qorach with Datan and Aviram and possibly in the word Dat (דת – religion (although some belive this to be from Persian or from DaNT to be free, available, collect one’s thoughts, devote and apply oneself, and do one’s best.
20 – King (MeLeKh – מלך) from the verb MaLaKh (מלך) to rule, it evolved from MaLaHh (מלח) to balance > to sail. It is more appropriately translated as to deliberate > to act deliberately. But also means to deliberate, as can be seen in the Akkadian to consider, discuss, advise, look after, mind, and confer.
21 – baker (אופה – /oPheH) evolved from the root /aPh (אף – nose, face, brow). That it means to cover the face can be seen in the evolved root /aPhaPh (אפף – to smother the face).

A.F.L Beeston, M.A. Ghul, W.W. Muller, J. Ryckmans (1982) Sabaic Dictionary. Publication of the University of Sanaa, Yar

Ernest Klein (1987) A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company

Hans Wehr. Ed by J Milton Cowan (1979) Hans Wehr A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. Ithaca, NY: Published in the United States by Spoken Languages Services, Inc with permission of Otto Harrassowitz

Jeremy Black, Andrew George, Nicholas Postgate, eds., A Concise Dictionary ofAkkadian, 2nd corrected printing (Santag Arbeiten und Untersuchungen Zur Keilschriftkunde, 5; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2000)

Marcus Jastrow (1996) A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushlami, and the Midrashic Literature.New York: The Judaica Press

J. Payne Smith’s (1999) A Compendious Syriac Dictionary. Published by Wipf and Stock

David Kantrowitz (1991 – 2009) Judaic Classics version 3.4. Institute for Computers in Jewish Life, Davka Corp., and/or Judaica Press, Inc.

G. del Olmo Lete & J. Sanmartin (2003) A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition. Leiden: Brill. Translated by Wilfred G.E. Watson

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About the Author
David Kolinsky is a retired physician born and raised in Monsey, New York. While living in Monterey California, David initially lived as a secular, agnostic Jew. However, in his spare time, he delved into twenty years of daily study of Hebrew etymology and Torah study culminating in the writing of an etymological dictionary of Biblical Hebrew and a metaphorical translation of Torah. Abandoning his agnostic views, David was simultaneously a spiritual leader of the world's smallest conservative synagogue, a teacher in his local reform synagogue, and a gabbai at Chabad. He is currently sheltering in place with his family in his new home in Plano, Texas.
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