Why Five Changes of Clothes? by Zev Kahane


During his reunion with his brothers, Yosef gives them presents.  The Torah records that “To each of them [Yosef] gave changes of clothing; but to Binyamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothing” (Bereishit 45:22).  The Gemara (Megillah 16b) is puzzled by Yosef’s actions.  Why would Yosef give Binyamin five changes of clothing if he gave the other brothers only one change?  Furthermore, the Torah Temimah elaborates that this type of favoritism was exactly what had caused the brothers to sell Yosef!  After all, the brothers became jealous of Yosef after he received a special garment from his father, the Ketonet Passim.  Hadn’t Yosef learned his lesson?

The Gemara answers that Yosef gave Binyamin five changes in order to allude to something that would happen in the future.  Yosef was hinting that in the future, Mordechai, Binyamin’s descendent, would go out dressed in five different types of royal garments.  This comes true in Megillat Ester, when “Mordechai left the king’s presence clad in royal apparel of turquoise (1) and white (2) with a large golden crown (3) and a robe of fine linen (4) and purple (5)” (Esther 8:15).

This helps us understand the reason Yosef gave Binyamin five changes of clothing.  The Maharshah, however, poses a question on the Gemara.  Why did the Gemara not ask the same question about the three hundred pieces of silver that Yosef gave Binyamin?  Even if the clothes were symbolic, wouldn’t the extra money cause the brothers to be jealous of Binyamin?

Rabbeinu Bachya presents a beautiful answer.  He begins by noting the Halacha that a Canaanite slave is worth thirty Shekalim.  This is why “If the ox shall gore a slave or maidservant, thirty silver Shekalim shall he give to the master” (Shemot 21:32).  In addition to this Halacha, there is a rule, “One who sells his servant to a Nochri is fined ten times the price” (Gittin 45b).  Putting these two Halachot together, Rabbeinu Bachya concludes that the brothers all deserved to be fined three hundred silver pieces for selling Yosef as a servant to Nochrim.

Yosef, obviously, did not collect the fine from them.  By so refraining, he essentially was giving each of the brothers a present of three hundred silver coins.  Based on this, we can answer the question of the Maharshah.  The reason Yosef would not make the brothers jealous by giving Binyamin three hundred silver coins was because really he gave each of them the equivalent three hundred silver coins.  In fact, he was making sure that Binyamin, who did not participate in the sale of Yosef, would not be jealous of the brothers.  Each of the brothers essentially received a present of three hundred silver coins from Yosef.  Binyamin was the only one who was not three hundred silver coins in debt, so Yosef made sure that all of the brothers received equal amount of money.

We can learn a very important lesson from Yosef.  Yosef was not required to spare his brothers from the obligation to pay their hefty fines.  He, however, went beyond the letter of the law and exempted them from this payment.  The Gemara explains, “Anyone who treats others with mercy will be treated mercifully by Hashem” (Shabbat 151b).  If, however, people don’t let things slip and instead choose to pick fights with others, Hashem will not let any of their negative actions go unpunished.  The Gemara explains that the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because Bnei Yisrael chose to pick fights with their neighbors (Bava Metzia 30b).  May we all find the power to work on our Midot Bein Adam LeChaveiro, specifically not getting upset over every small matter.  And by so doing, may we merit the building of the third Beit HaMikdash BiMheirah VeYameinu.

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