For this week’s parsha, a challot shaped liked a “ketonet passim,” sheaves of wheat, and the sun and moon and stars. The challah ketonet passim is decorated so that the base of the coat is a sheaf of wheat (with the belt of the coat being the cord tying together the sheaf) and there are stars and a sun and moon on the top of the coat (hard to see after baking, unfortunately).
In this week’s parsha, Yaacov gives Yosef a “ketonet passim.” This is often translated as a “coat of many colors,” but that is not the only possible meaning.
From The Living Torah (as quoted on Chabad, Balashon, and ParshaBlog):
Ketonet passim, in the Hebrew. The word passim can be translated as “colorful” (Radak; Septuagint), “embroidered” (Ibn Ezra; Bachya; Nachmanides on Exodus 28:2), “striped” (Ibn Janach; Radak, Sherashim), or “illustrated” (Targum Yonathan). It can also denote a long garment, coming down to the “palms” of the hands (Rashbam; Ibn Ezra; Baaley Tosafoth; Midrash Rabbah), and the feet (Lekach Tov). Alternatively, the word denotes the material out of which the coat was made, which was fine wool (Rashi) or silk (Ibn Janach). Hence, Ketonet passim, may be translated as “a full-sleeved robe,” “a coat of many colors,” “a coat reaching to his feet,” “an ornamented tunic,” “a silk robe,” or “a fine woolen cloak.”
So, we don’t really know what the ketonet passim looked like, not even if it was colorful, or what that would have meant in the context of that time (although Balashon’s post on this does have a picture of ketonet passim from the Daat Mikra on Shmuel II, and they are colorful).
We do know that the ketonet passim indicated the favoritism by Yaacov that made Yosef’s brothers so jealous. But, why was this garment a sign of favor, what did it signify? As used elsewhere in the Torah, the word ketonet relates to both royal and priestly garments as well as to Adam’s clothing, as Rabbi Kahn notes in “Clothes Make the Man.”
Rabbi Kahn cites the Midrash that the ketonet passim were the original clothes of Adam, passed down to Nimrod, taken by Esav and then used by Yaacov to get the blessing from Yitzchak. Chabad has a more detailed provenance: the clothes passed down from Adam to Noach, to Noach’s son Ham, then to Ham’s grandson Nimrod. On the day of Avraham’s death, Esav killed Nimrod to get these clothes, which were believed to have conferred great power on Nimrod, making him a skilled hunter and powerful ruler (but not powerful enough to avoid being killed by Esav, apparently).
In his discussion of Toldos, Rav Silverberg offers a very interesting analysis about the relationship between Nimrod, Esav and Yitzchak’s favoritism. Rav Silverberg suggests that Yitzchak favored Esav because he was like Nimrod, the powerful ruler and hunter. At first, it seems like an odd idea, because Nimrod is associated with evil (Migdal Bavel/ Tower of Babel, casting Avraham into the furnace). But Yitzchak saw in Esav someone who could conquer Nimrod, who opposed everything Avraham and his descendants represented. Rivka disagreed, seeing Esav as only lusting after power and not embodying the values of Avraham.
The Midrash that the ketonet passim were the clothes taken from Nimrod is especially interesting when connected to the above. It suggests that Yosef was being designated as a leader, a spiritual heir, which Yosef also prophesied with his dreams of the sheaves and the one of the sun and moon and stars.
Rav Soleveitchik suggests that the two dreams relate to two different kinds of power and leadership. The dream of the sheaves was one of material power, economic and military leadership. The dream of the sun and the moon and the stars was a dream of spiritual greatness and leadership. Rav Soleveitchik suggests that Yosef aspired to both worldly and spiritual greatness, and “this is the meaning of the ketonet ha-passim—multicolored, not monochromatic, not one monotonous color. If there are many colors, there are many contradictions. Colors clash with one another, and Joseph was the synthesis of alumot and the heavenly bodies.”