In the book of Genesis, the patriarch Jacob gives his son Joseph a special garment—in Hebrew, a k’tonet pasim—thus inciting the jealousy of his other sons. While English-speakers are accustomed to thinking of this gift as a “coat of many colors”—or, for those exposed to the work of the English composer Andrew Lloyd Weber, a “technicolor dream coat”—the exact meaning of the term is unclear. Sarah Rudolph examines how this coat was understood by traditional Jewish commentators as a coat of fine wool, one with long sleeves, a striped robe, or yes, a multicolored one. But other rabbis, such as Rabbi Judah Loewe ben Betsalel of Prague (known as Maharal, ca. 1512-1609), also look to its symbolic meaning:
Maharal observes that if all one needed to know was what the people in the story did, and their general motivations, the details of the k’tonet pasim would be completely unnecessary. We don’t hear about every extra smile Jacob bestowed on his favorite son; what is it about this gift that makes it worth the Torah’s sacred ink?
The Maharal answers the question by delving into the fanciful interpretations of the coat found in ancient midrash, leading Rudolph to the following conclusion:
The entire story of Joseph carries a running theme of Divine planning and providence. Joseph himself alludes to it when he reveals his identity to his brothers and midrashic traditions find hints throughout to a Divine plan even greater than the one Joseph perceived, so it should be no surprise to find this central message embedded in the k’tonet pasim as well