Beged: The root for clothing is the same as for betrayal Why?

BIBLICAL WORD STUDY: Torah Portion  VaYeishev:Genesis 37:1–40:23

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism Kohen lights menora in priestly garments
Kohen lights menora in priestly garments
צילום: PR

In the Torah portion of Vayeshev we read of the incident between Potiphar's wife and Joseph (Yosef) and we encounter a constant reference to the clothing (Begged) of Joseph;

 And it came about on a certain day, that he came to the house to do his work, and none of the people of the house were there in the house.So she grabbed him by his garment,( BeBigdo)  saying, "Lie with me!" But he left his garment (Bigdo)  in her hand and fled and went outside.    Now it happened, when she saw that he had left his garment (Bigdo) in her hand and had fled outside....16  So she left his garment (Bigdo) beside her, until his master came home.17And she told him the same thing, saying, "The Hebrew slave that you brought to us came to me to mock happened when I raised my voice and called out, that he left his garment (Bigdo)  beside me and fled outside."( Genesis 39:11-18)


The clothing he wore became the item that was used to betray him. This is not the first time that an article of clothing is used to impact the life of Yosef.

” And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of his old age; and he made him a “ coat of many colors”(a fine woolen coat).And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak with him peacefully.(Genesis 37:3-4)


Later on when Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery we read the following concerning clothing again.

And they took Joseph's coat, and they slaughtered a kid, and they dipped the coat in the blood. And they sent the fine woolen coat, and they brought it to their father, and they said, "We have found this; now recognize whether it is your son's coat or not."         He recognized it, and he said, "It is my son's coat; a wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn up."(Genesis 37:31-33)


We live in a world wherein layer after layer of disguises and camouflage, hide true intentions and mask sincerity and truth. We dress in certain ways and speak with specific jargon so as to portray certain images.

This phenomenon is clearly revealed in the Hebrew language. The word for clothing in Hebrew is “Beged” and its root seems to be connected to the Hebrew word for betrayal and deception, “Bagad”. After all the role of clothing is to hide and conceal. Clothes very often are used to hide the weakness or the negative traits of a man

“And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves and made for  themselves coverings.".(Genesis 3: 7)


At times, though, the disguise can even convince the one who is wearing these clothes that he is in fact someone he is not. This is especially true of the political leadership in general. Too much effort is placed in how one is supposed to look and sound, rather than what one needs to be. The result is that nations and peoples are left without responsible leadership and without direction of purpose.

“Son of man, prophesy concerning the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them, to the shepherds: So said Hashem G-d : Woe, shepherds of Israel who were shepherding themselves! Do not the shepherds shepherd the flocks? You eat the fat and you clothe yourselves with the wool; the fatlings you slaughter; the flocks you do not shepherd..”( Ezekiel 34 : 2-3)

Man must define himself by what he does and for what purpose he does it and not by what he wears. Only then can the clothes serve Man’s higher calling.

It is for this reason that Torah demands that we take that external “beged” and elevate it into a vessel of holiness.

“You shall make holy garments (Bigdei Kodesh) for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory.”( Exodus 28:2).

Joseph , whom we refer to as Yosef  HaTzadik (the righteous one) began his own process of self-discovery in the manner so familiar to us all. He seemed in his youth, according to our sages, very self-absorbed and very sure of himself. That is why we read the following

"And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak with him peacefully. And Joseph dreamed a dream and told his brothers, and they continued to hate him.(Genesis 36:4-5)

This is immediately followed by "And he again dreamed another dream, and he related it to his brothers, ...And he told it to his father and to his brothers, and his father rebuked him ....So his brothers envied him, but his father awaited the matter."(ibid:9-11)

Could he not see what his words were achieving? Perhaps he was so taken by the prophetic hints he was receiving in his dreams  that he lost perspective of what was before him. The “coat of many colors” that he wore with great pride symbolized that period in his life.

It is then, as we have seen , this very coat is used to betray him.

The saga with clothing does not end here, though.

After the wife of Potiphar condemns him by using his very own own garment,  Joseph is sent into a jail cell. It is there that he is given the opportunity to grow into his purpose.

In his time in prison he again is clothed in a manner that befits his embattled state. Joseph then interprets the dreams of two fellow inmates. When the dream of the Wine Steward is fulfilled just as Joseph interpreted, we see Joseph begging him to appeal to Pharaoh on his behalf. Yet the Wine Steward forgets about Joseph for two years.

Some explain that this request could have been construed as a diminishing of Joseph’s faith and therefore resulted in an extra two years of imprisonment .Perhaps the two years decreed from “On High” were due to the fact that Joseph’s request caused a diminishing of the greatness of G-d in the eyes of the Wine Steward .

The greatest purpose of mankind is to be G-d’s language in the world. That is why G-d chose a people, as an example , to reveal that truth to the whole world.  “You are my witnesses," declares Hashem, "and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no G-d was formed, nor will there be one after me.”( Isaiah 43:10).

That opportunity to be G-d’s language finally begins to manifest itself upon Joseph’s release from prison.

"I have heard say of you," says Pharaoh, "that you can understand a dream to interpret it." "It is not me," says Joseph. "G-d shall give Pharaoh a favorable answer.".( ibid 41:15-16)

The effect on Pharaoh is noticeable in his declaration to Joseph;

"Since G-d has shown you all this," says Pharaoh to Joseph, "there is none as understanding and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be ruled; only in the throne will I be greater than you."(ibid:40)

As a result of this we read of clothing again ;

And Pharaoh removed his ring from his hand and placed it on Joseph's hand, and he attired him with raiment of fine linen, and he placed the golden chain around his neck.(Genesis 41:42)

Joseph's clothing betrayed him in the past. Yet when he truly understood his purpose in Hashem’s plan, the clothing that he is attired with are  used to glorify G-d. So a Begged can camouflage and hide or it can elevate and sanctify. The choice is in our hands.


Lerefuat Kol HaPtzuim ve Hacholim
Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther