Thursday, December 13, 2012

Clothes Make the Man

2 Tevet 5773 / Dec. 14-15, 2012

In this week’s portion, Miketz, we learn that Pharaoh has a couple of dreams of his own.  After checking in with his court, Pharaoh’s butler remembers and mentions Joseph’s dream-interpreting skills.  Thus, Joseph gets a haircut, is put into some new clothes, and is brought before Pharaoh. 

Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams to mean that there are seven years of plenty on their way, which will be followed by seven years of famine.  He suggests that Pharaoh set someone in charge of conserving resources and planning over the seven years ahead to ensure there is enough to eat in the seven years of famine.  Lo and behold, Pharaoh makes Joseph his #2 and charges him with designing and executing such plans, and gives him an Egyptian wife, who in turn births two sons: Menashe and Ephraim.

After the seven years of plenty, famine strikes throughout the world, and Jacob sends his 10 older sons (he keeps Benjamin, his new favorite, and the youngest, at home) to Egypt to procure food.  Upon arriving in Egypt, Joseph recognizes his brothers (but they do not recognize him), and decides to give them a bit of payback.  He accuses them of being spies, and imprisons them for 3 days.  He then sends all but Simeon home, saying that he doesn’t want to see them again unless Benjamin is with them.  His brothers wail amongst themselves that this misfortune has come upon them because of what they did to their brother Joseph, not knowing that Joseph understood them, because there was an interpreter between him and them. 

Upon returning home, Jacob is unwilling to allow Benjamin to leave – even with Reuben promising that he’ll be looked after.  Thus, the brothers stay at home until their food runs low again (leaving Simeon in jail).  Then, Jacob accedes to the demand to send Benjamin, recognizing that they would all die without food.  Upon returning to Egypt, the brothers are treated well, with special favoritism shown by Joseph to Benjamin (perhaps trying to discover whether his brothers were still the jealous fratricidal types). 

Upon sending them home, Joseph has a goblet put in Benjamin’s sack.  He has his guards chase after the brothers, overtake them, and “discover” the “theft.”  The portion ends with the brothers offering themselves as slaves to Joseph, who states that he only desires as a prisoner “the one in whose possession the goblet was found.”

One of the most interesting sections of this portion, to me, is what takes place when Joseph is brought out of prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.  Before being brought to Pharaoh, Joseph was cleaned up! Between a haircut and some fresh clothes, Joseph must have looked like a new person when juxtaposed with his previous “prison chic” look.  It’s quite possible, and even likely, that by virtue of appearing clean and well dressed, that Pharaoh paid more attention to Joseph and attributed to him greater wisdom than he otherwise would have.

Mark Twain once stated: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

It’s no secret that clothes and appearance have a significant impact on how we view others.  While we like to think that we can look past exterior superficialities, we judge people all the time based on their external appearances.  One of the areas in particular where this is the case is when interviewing for jobs.  Even jobs that don’t require workers to dress formally at work often require applicants to dress in a more formal manner when interviewing.  The reality is that many people do not have the means to own such formal items.

While every season should be a season of giving, the holiday season in particular (partially due to year-end tax write-off possibilities) is one where many folks are conscious of giving a little bit extra.  This holiday season, consider donating lightly used or new professional wear to organizations such as Dress For Success and Career Gear – organizations focused on helping individuals find lasting employment by offering various tools, including appropriate interview attire.

According to Maimonides, the medieval Rabbi and philosopher, helping others find work is the highest rung on the ladder of charitable giving. 

This holiday season, let’s strive to look past each person’s external features and to recognize internal beauty.  Let’s reconcile any outstanding issues we may have with our own families, as Joseph struggled to do with his brothers.  And let’s climb to the highest rung of charity -- helping others make a living -- by assisting them in acquiring the tools (and clothing) they need to do so. 

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