The Life of Joseph: The Metaphorical Depths from PaRDeS

15 min read

Based on: Sefer Bereshit (Genesis) 37:1-50:26

The Coat of Many Colors

In Sefer Bereshit (Genesis) 37, we encounter the vivid metaphor of Joseph’s “coat of many colors.” This garment, gifted by Jacob to his son Joseph, is laden with allegorical significance.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, the coat is a multi-colored garment. It signifies Jacob’s special affection for Joseph, the firstborn of his beloved Rachel.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): The coat hints at the idea of favoritism and distinction. It becomes a symbol of Joseph’s perceived superiority over his brothers, which sows seeds of envy and strife.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): On a deeper level, the coat can be seen as a metaphor for the spectrum of human experience. Joseph’s life journey, marked by ups and downs, mirrors the coat’s varied colors. It symbolizes the diversity of challenges and blessings one encounters in life.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, the coat represents the Shechinah (Divine Presence) cloaking Joseph. The colors signify various divine emanations, suggesting that Joseph’s trials and triumphs are part of a larger, divine plan.

Joseph’s Dreams

Joseph’s dreams in Genesis 37 are profound metaphors.

Pshat: The dreams are literal nighttime visions, foretelling Joseph’s future ascendancy over his family.

Remez: These dreams hint at the concept of destiny and divine providence. They suggest that individual dreams might carry collective significance, foreshadowing future events.

Drush: Homiletically, Joseph’s dreams represent the power of ambition and vision. They serve as a metaphor for the aspirations one holds, which may initially cause conflict but ultimately lead to fulfillment of one’s destiny.

Sod: On a mystical level, the dreams are seen as channels through which divine messages are conveyed. They symbolize the idea that God communicates with individuals through symbolic visions, guiding and foretelling future paths.

The Pit

In Genesis 37:24, Joseph is cast into a pit by his brothers, a potent metaphorical image.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, the pit is a physical hole in the ground, devoid of water, where Joseph is thrown.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): The pit hints at the depths of human jealousy and the darkness of betrayal. It symbolizes a low point in Joseph’s life, a place of isolation and abandonment.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): On a homiletical level, the pit represents the lows that one might experience in life. It’s a metaphor for despair and hopelessness, yet also a place where transformation begins. For Joseph, the pit is the starting point of his journey towards greatness.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, the pit is seen as a representation of the spiritual voids we encounter. It’s a place where light is absent, symbolizing moments of spiritual crisis that are often prerequisites for growth and deeper understanding.

The Slave Merchants

In Genesis 37:28, Joseph is sold to passing Ishmaelites and Midianites, a scene rich with metaphor.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, this refers to Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): This sale hints at the unforeseen consequences of actions driven by envy and hate. It metaphorically represents the transfer of one’s destiny at the hands of others.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): The slave merchants symbolize life’s unpredictable journeys. Just as Joseph is taken from a familiar environment into the unknown, so too are we often thrust into unforeseen circumstances that shape our destiny.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): On a mystical level, the merchants represent the divine orchestration of life events. Their role in Joseph’s life symbolizes how seemingly random events are often divinely guided steps towards fulfilling one’s purpose.

Potiphar’s House

Joseph’s time in Potiphar’s house in Genesis 39 is laden with metaphorical meaning.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): On the surface, this is the account of Joseph serving in the household of an Egyptian officer.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): Potiphar’s house symbolizes the challenges of maintaining integrity in foreign environments. It represents the tests of faith and morality one faces when placed in unfamiliar or tempting situations.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): On a homiletical level, Potiphar’s house is a metaphor for the trials that refine character. Just as Joseph rises to a position of trust and responsibility, so too can individuals grow and excel even in adverse circumstances.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, this setting is seen as a representation of divine providence operating in hidden ways. Joseph’s rise in Potiphar’s house, despite being a slave, suggests a hidden, divine hand guiding and preparing him for greater roles.

Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

The encounter between Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:7-20) is rich in metaphorical imagery.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, this is the story of Joseph resisting the advances of his master’s wife.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): This episode hints at the conflict between virtue and vice, and the struggle to maintain one’s integrity in the face of temptation.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): Homiletically, the encounter symbolizes the moral tests that individuals face. Joseph’s resistance is emblematic of the strength required to uphold one’s principles and righteousness.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): On a mystical level, this encounter represents the battle between spiritual purity and impurity. Joseph’s resistance is seen as a victory over the yetzer hara (evil inclination), symbolizing the triumph of the soul’s inherent holiness over earthly temptations.

The Prison

Joseph’s imprisonment in Genesis 39:20-23 serves as a powerful metaphor.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, the prison is the place where Joseph is unjustly confined after being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): The prison represents unjust suffering and the trials of innocence. It symbolizes the experience of being trapped by circumstances beyond one’s control.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): On a homiletical level, the prison is a metaphor for personal limitations and spiritual confinement. It reflects the idea that true freedom and leadership can emerge even in constraining situations, as Joseph becomes a leader among the prisoners.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, the prison symbolizes the descent of the soul into the physical world, which is often viewed as a kind of spiritual confinement. Joseph’s ability to maintain his integrity and interpret dreams in prison represents the soul’s capacity to remain connected to its divine source even in challenging conditions.

Joseph’s Interpretation of Dreams

Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker in Genesis 40 is deeply metaphorical.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, this passage describes Joseph interpreting the dreams of his fellow prisoners, accurately predicting their future.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): The dreams and their interpretations hint at the hidden meanings in life’s events and the need for discernment in understanding them.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): Homiletically, Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams symbolizes the wisdom to find meaning in the complexities of life. It’s a metaphor for the insight needed to decipher life’s challenges and opportunities.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): On a mystical level, dream interpretation is seen as a form of divine communication. Joseph’s gift symbolizes the deeper spiritual understanding that comes from being attuned to the divine messages in our lives, guiding us through the darkness like dreams illuminate the night.

The Cupbearer and the Baker

The stories of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker in Genesis 40:1-23 serve as rich metaphors.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, these are accounts of two officials in Pharaoh’s court who are imprisoned and have their dreams interpreted by Joseph.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): The cupbearer and baker symbolize the unpredictability of life’s fortunes. Their sudden fall from grace and their differing fates (restoration for one, doom for the other) reflect the vicissitudes of human existence.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): Homiletically, these characters represent the dual aspects of human experience: hope and despair, redemption and condemnation. The contrasting outcomes of their stories teach about divine justice and mercy.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, the cupbearer and baker can be seen as embodiments of spiritual nourishment and decay. The cupbearer, who provides wine (a symbol of joy and spiritual elevation), is restored, while the baker, associated with physical sustenance, meets a dire end. This contrast highlights the supremacy of spiritual pursuits over material ones.

The Forgotten Dream Interpreter

Joseph’s experience of being forgotten by the cupbearer, as mentioned in Genesis 40:23, is metaphorically significant.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, this refers to the cupbearer failing to mention Joseph to Pharaoh, leaving Joseph in prison.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): This episode symbolizes the feeling of being overlooked or neglected, especially after performing a good deed or service.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): On a homiletical level, this represents the test of patience and faith in divine timing. Joseph’s continued faith, despite being forgotten, teaches the importance of trust in God’s plan, even when recognition or reward is delayed.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, Joseph’s forgotten state can be seen as a reflection of the hiddenness of God in our lives. It symbolizes those moments when divine presence and intervention are not immediately apparent, testing our faith and perseverance.

The Harbinger of Famine and Plenty

The dreams of Pharaoh, which Joseph interprets in Genesis 41, are profound in their metaphorical depth.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, these are Pharaoh’s dreams about seven fat cows and seven lean cows, and seven healthy ears of grain and seven withered ears, which Joseph interprets as seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): These dreams symbolize the cyclic nature of life’s fortunes – abundance and scarcity. They remind us of the inevitable fluctuations in life’s circumstances.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): On a homiletical level, the dreams represent foresight and preparation. Joseph’s interpretation and subsequent planning exemplify the wisdom of preparing for future challenges in times of prosperity.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, the dreams are seen as divine messages. The contrasting images of abundance and famine symbolize the flow of divine blessing and the challenges that test faith. They suggest a deeper understanding of divine providence and the need to remain spiritually resilient in both good and hard times.

Joseph’s Rise to Power

Joseph’s elevation to a position of power in Egypt, as described in Genesis 41:41-57, is laden with metaphorical significance.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, this is the story of Joseph’s rise from a prisoner to the second most powerful man in Egypt.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): This ascent symbolizes the reversal of fortunes and the unexpected ways in which divine justice is served. It illustrates how misfortunes can lead to greater destinies.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): Homiletically, Joseph’s rise represents the triumph of integrity and wisdom. It serves as a metaphor for the idea that righteousness and skill, even when initially unrewarded, can eventually lead to recognition and success.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): On a mystical level, Joseph’s rise is seen as the elevation of the spiritual over the material. His ascent from a state of imprisonment to rulership symbolizes the soul’s journey from confinement in the physical world to a position of spiritual prominence and influence.

The Names of Joseph’s Sons

The naming of Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, in Genesis 41:51-52, carries deep metaphorical meanings.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, Joseph names his firstborn Manasseh, meaning “God has made me forget all my hardship,” and his second son Ephraim, meaning “God has made me fruitful.”

Remez (Hinted Meaning): The names symbolize the healing and restoration that follow suffering. Manasseh represents the ability to move past pain, while Ephraim symbolizes the blessings and growth that can emerge from difficult experiences.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): Homiletically, these names represent the journey from affliction to abundance. They teach that endurance through hardships can lead to unforeseen blessings and prosperity.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, Manasseh and Ephraim represent spiritual forgetfulness and fruitfulness. Manasseh signifies the soul’s ability to transcend past traumas and focus on its divine mission, while Ephraim represents the soul’s capacity to thrive and multiply its spiritual accomplishments.

The Return of the Brothers

The return of Joseph’s brothers to Egypt for grain, as depicted in Genesis 42, is rich in metaphorical insights.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, this is the story of Joseph’s brothers coming to Egypt to buy grain during the famine.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): This event symbolizes the confrontation with past misdeeds and the inevitability of facing the consequences of one’s actions.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): On a homiletical level, the brothers’ journey represents the journey of repentance and reconciliation. It’s a metaphor for confronting and rectifying past mistakes, and the complex path towards forgiveness and healing.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, the brothers’ return to Egypt signifies the soul’s return to its source for sustenance and rectification. Their journey and eventual reconciliation with Joseph symbolize the soul’s quest for spiritual nourishment and its reconciliation with its higher purpose.

The Silver Cup

The incident of the silver cup in Genesis 44, where Joseph’s cup is found in Benjamin’s sack, is layered with metaphorical meaning.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, this is the account of Joseph’s silver cup being secretly placed in Benjamin’s sack and the subsequent accusation of theft.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): The silver cup symbolizes the tests of integrity and the consequences of past actions. It represents the mysterious ways in which individuals are brought to reckon with their actions.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): Homiletically, the cup is a metaphor for the hidden aspects of our lives that eventually come to light. It reflects the idea that nothing remains concealed forever and that truth will eventually surface.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, the cup represents the concept of divine judgment and retribution. The way it is used to bring about a resolution of the brothers’ guilt and lead to reconciliation symbolizes the idea that divine justice often works in mysterious and unforeseen ways to bring about spiritual rectification.

The Revelation to the Brothers

Joseph’s revelation of his identity to his brothers in Genesis 45 is rich in metaphorical significance.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, this is the moment when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers who had sold him into slavery.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): This revelation symbolizes the unveiling of truths and the unexpected ways in which life’s mysteries are resolved. It represents the moment of recognition and understanding after a long period of ignorance and misunderstanding.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): Homiletically, this event is a metaphor for the transformative power of forgiveness and reconciliation. It exemplifies how understanding and compassion can heal deep wounds and bridge longstanding divisions.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, Joseph’s revelation to his brothers represents the revelation of divine providence in our lives. It symbolizes the moment when the hidden hand of God becomes apparent, showing how all events are part of a divine plan leading to spiritual growth and fulfillment.

The Journey to Goshen

The journey of Jacob and his family to Egypt, settling in Goshen as described in Genesis 46, is metaphorically rich.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, this is the migration of Jacob’s family to Egypt to reunite with Joseph and survive the famine.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): This journey symbolizes the transitions in life that lead to unexpected but providential destinations. It represents the move from a place of scarcity to one of provision and security.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): On a homiletical level, the journey to Goshen is a metaphor for the spiritual journey towards a place of divine providence. It signifies the movement from a state of spiritual famine to one of nourishment and fulfillment.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, Goshen represents a spiritual oasis. The migration of Jacob’s family to Goshen symbolizes the soul’s journey to a place where it can thrive spiritually, even within a physical environment that may seem alien or challenging.

The Blessings of Jacob

The blessings Jacob bestows upon his sons in Genesis 49 are replete with metaphorical meaning.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, these are the blessings Jacob gives to each of his sons, predicting their futures and the characteristics of their descendants.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): Each blessing symbolizes the unique role and destiny of the tribes of Israel. They represent the diverse paths and contributions of each tribe in the formation of the nation.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): Homiletically, the blessings are a metaphor for the diversity of talents and roles within a community. They teach the importance of recognizing and valuing the different strengths and contributions of each individual.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, Jacob’s blessings are seen as prophetic insights into the spiritual missions of the tribes. They symbolize the deeper, spiritual qualities and tasks assigned to each tribe, reflecting the varied ways in which divine service can be expressed.

The Deathbed Confession of Joseph

The final words and instructions of Joseph in Genesis 50:24-26 carry deep metaphorical meanings.

Pshat (Simple Interpretation): Literally, these are Joseph’s final words to his brothers, assuring them of God’s care and instructing them to carry his bones out of Egypt when God delivers them.

Remez (Hinted Meaning): Joseph’s insistence on the removal of his bones from Egypt symbolizes the enduring connection to one’s heritage and homeland. It represents the hope and faith in a future redemption.

Drush (Homiletical Interpretation): On a homiletical level, Joseph’s deathbed confession is a metaphor for the continuity of faith and tradition. It highlights the importance of remembering and adhering to one’s roots and beliefs, even in changing circumstances.

Sod (Mystical Interpretation): Mystically, the removal of Joseph’s bones from Egypt is seen as the ultimate redemption of the soul from exile. It symbolizes the soul’s journey from the constraints of the physical world to its ultimate liberation and return to its divine source.


This concludes the exploration of metaphorical words and themes in Sefer Bereshit, chapters 37:1 to 50:26. Each metaphor, drawn from the vivid narratives of Joseph and his family, offers layers of meaning from the simple to the mystical, reflecting the rich tapestry of Jewish thought and spirituality.

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