Jewish learning Jacob’s Gift
“In linking Joseph’s cloak to the tunics of skin granted to the first man and his wife, one intimates the potential for either a positive or negative fate or purpose in the gift. Whether the donning of this special cloak serves as a source of atonement for transgression or as a temptation to transgress, especially the tenth commandment—’thou shalt not covet’—depends on the integrity of the one who wears it.” — Rav Rachel Adelman
The above excerpt from Rav Rachel Adelman’s essay, “The Fate of the First Clothing,” appears in Hebrew College’s new book: Ḥiddushim: Celebrating Hebrew College’s Centennial. Adelman wrote the poem below as an appendix to her essay.
I stand over the pit where I had buried the coveted cloak and dig,
brush off the dirt and lift it up: sheen of snakeskin,
fragile yet not worn thin by time, embroidered with crimson thread—
torso of Behemoth, winged beasts, and tail of Leviathan.
It shimmers, weightless, a sequin gown
made of fingernails that mirror moonlight.
I wore this robe when I stood before my father:
See the smell, my son,
is like the smell of the field that Yaweh blessed.
Whiff of Eden—this is the cloak
that the Primordial Serpent sloughed off
with a cry that traveled from one end of the Earth to the other.
And God wove the snakeskin into two robes—
one for her and one for him.
All the beasts of the field crowded round,
birds of the air swooped down, sea creatures
swarmed to the waters’ edge to bask in the shimmer.
They all declared Adam and Eve king and queen of the Earth.
And Adam passed the cloaks on to Seth, and Seth to Noah,
and Noah passed them to Shem.
Adam’s cloak rests with Melchitzedek, High Priest of El Elyon.
But Eve’s cloak was passed on to Ham.
And Nimrod inherited her gown of snakeskin.
When the Mighty Warrior wore the cloak,
Esau, my brother, saw how all the beasts of the field came
to bow down, from the gazelle to the turtle dove.
Even the lion crouched at his feet purring like a Persian house cat.
What power! Esau took his bow and arrow and hunted
Nimrod down so that he might don its magic.
I now hold Eve’s shimmering cloak in my arms,
designer cloak of desire, that my mother foraged from Esau’s wardrobe.
It smells of pungent jasmine and fresh blood.
I had slipped into the cloak like a seal into water.
My mother then overlaid the goat’s hair-skin on my neck and arms
should the old man grope through blindness to skin.
When Esau heard, and pleaded: “Bless me too, father!”
He let out a cry that traveled from one end of the Earth to the other,
tore a gash in the clouds, rent the firmament.
I could not return it, even furtively, to his wardrobe
for he’d hunt me down as he had the Warrior.
Its smell made me nauseous. I buried it.
Now Joseph is seventeen. I hold the cloak in my arms,
dazzled by its beauty, its vertiginous power. I will give it to him,
as beautiful as his mother, for only he is worthy of its shimmer.
Rav Rachel Adelman is Associate Professor of Bible in the rabbinical program at Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA. program.