“Every word in the Torah has wisdom and wondrous insights for those who understand them; [the Torah’s] wisdom is unfathomable. [The Torah is] “longer than the earth and wider than the sea.” One can only follow in the footsteps of David, God’s Messiah, who prayed, “Open my eyes that I may behold the wonders of Your Torah” (Psalms 119:18).”Maimonidies, a famous Jewish rabbi, included this belief in his 13 principles of faith for the Jewish religion. The devout believe that every single word in the Bible is there on purpose, no matter how confusing it may be to us, and that it is our privilege and joy to dig for understanding.
Given that every word carries meaning and has been placed there on purpose by God, when a word repeats itself over and over again in a section or a story, the Jewish mind will light up. What is this? It must be important. Similarly, patterns and repetitions of all kinds are significant and noteworthy.
Given this perspective, consider the story of Joseph at the end of Genesis. He very famously had his fancy coat taken away from him and then was thrown in a pit even though he had done nothing wrong. Later, in his new master Potiphar’s house, the wife tries to seduce him and grabs his clothes – yet again, he has his clothes taken and thrown into prison, even though he had done nothing wrong. These patterns may not be apparent on first glance, but if you are studying and looking for repitition and symbols like this, they can pop out to you. And then there’s the fun bit. What is God trying to communicate to us through this?
Joseph learned a lot during his time in the pit(s). He must have been in shock that the same trauma could happen to him twice. God clearly had a plan for his life, but needed to teach him a thing or two. He learned character, and developed the heart of a good leader in those dark, lonely years, as he was brought to great humility, patience and wisdom which he did not display in his youth. When the Jewish reader observes a pattern such as this, it is likely a sign of God at work. Joseph’s times in the pit were part of God’s training program, and the events he had gone through were allowed by God’s hand.
And the clothes? Clothes often symbolise our identity. Joseph was literally stripped; stripped of his clothes, stripped of his rights, stripped of his position and stripped of his identity. God stripped him bare of all he had and taught Joseph his ways from the foundation up. Twice. The first time, his training was not complete, and he had to go through the cycle again. But after his years in prison, God had made him ready. Joseph was mature and able as a great leader, and able to say to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)
So when you’re reading your Bible, pay careful attention to repetition, and ask God what he wants us to learn from it. Every word is put there on purpose and there are, as Maimonidies says, wonderous insights to be found.