Miketz: Joseph's clothes

It is not coincidenta that the Torah portion of Miketz is always read during Hanukkah. The two events are intricately connected.

Moshe Kempinski,

Judaism Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski
צילום: PR

Insights into People in the Torah Series

The Torah Portion of Mikeitz Genesis 41:1–44:17

Moshe Kempinski

Lilui Nishmat Avi Mori Baruch Ben Moshe Avraham Z”L

Joseph's life is a whirlwind of human frailties, emerging faith and prophetic destiny. Interestingly, this turbulent life also seems to be always intertwined with clothing .

 "And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of his old age; and he made him a fine ( colored) woolen coat. (Genesis 36:3) .

His life  then progresses through twists and turns and ends with "And Pharaoh removed his ring from his hand and placed it on Joseph's hand, and he attired him with clothing  of fine linen, and he placed the golden chain around his neck. ( ibid 41:42).

What then is that connection and how would that connection help us understand Joseph the man, his destiny and the eternal meaning he represents for the people of Israel?

We live in a world wherein layer after layer of disguises and camouflage, hide true intentions and mask sincerity and truth. We dress in certain ways and speak with specific jargon so as to portray certain images.

This phenomenon is clearly revealed in the Hebrew language. The word for clothing in Hebrew is “Beged” and its root seems to be connected to the Hebrew word for betrayal and deception, “Bagad”, for after all the role of clothing is to hide and conceal. Clothes very often are used to hide the weakness or the negative traits of a man

“And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves and made themselves girdles.(Genesis 3: 7)

At times, though, the disguise can even convince the one who is wearing these clothes that he is in fact someone he is not. This is especially true of the political leadership in general. Too much effort is placed in how one is supposed to look and sound, rather than what one needs to be. The result is that nations and peoples are left without responsible leadership and without direction of purpose.

“Son of man, prophesy concerning the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them, to the shepherds: So said Hashem G-d : Woe, shepherds of Israel who were shepherding themselves! Do not the shepherds shepherd the flocks? You eat the fat and you clothe yourselves with the wool; the fatlings you slaughter; the flocks you do not shepherd..”( Ezekiel 34 : 2-3)

Man must define himself by what he does and for what purpose he does it and not by what he wears. Only then can the clothes serve Man’s higher calling rather than Man being enslaved to the image the clothes are meant to convey.

It is for this reason that Torah demands that we take that external “beged” and elevate it into a vessel of holiness.

“You shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory.”( Exodus 28:2).

So we return to Joseph

Joseph , whom we refer to as Yosef  HaTzadik (the righteous one) began his own process of self-discovery in the manner so familiar to us all. He seemed in his youth, according to our sages, very self-absorbed and very sure of himself. That is why we read the following

"And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak with him peacefully. And Joseph dreamed a dream and told his brothers, and they continued to hate him.(Genesis 36:4-5)

This is immediately followed by "And he again dreamed another dream, and he related it to his brothers, ...And he told [it] to his father and to his brothers, and his father rebuked him ....So his brothers envied him, but his father awaited the matter.(ibid:9-11)

Could he not see what his words were achieving? Perhaps he was so passionately involved with the hints of prophetic destiny that he was glimpsing that he lost perspective of what was before him. The coat of many colors that he wore with great pride symbolized that period in his life.

It is then, that this very  coat t is used to betray him.” And they took Joseph's coat, and they slaughtered a kid, and they dipped the coat in the blood.    And they sent the fine woolen coat, and they brought [it] to their father, and they said, "We have found this; now recognize whether it is your son's coat or not."( ibid:31-32)

Further we read of his being elevated in the house of Potiphar, the Egyptian minister and again we see clothing being used to betray him;

"that she called to the people of her house, and she spoke to them, saying, "Look! He brought us a Hebrew man to mock us. He came to me to lie with me, but I called loudly. And it happened that when he heard that I raised my voice and called out, he left his garmentbeside me, and he fled and went outside….( ibid 38:14-16)

 

In his time in prison he again is clothed in a manner that befits his embattled state. Joseph then interprets the dreams of two fellow inmates. When the dream of the Wine Steward is fulfilled just as Joseph interpreted ,we see Joseph begging him to appeal to Pharaoh on his behalf. Yet the Wine Steward forgets about Joseph for two years.

Some explain that this request could have been construed as a diminishing of Joseph’s faith and therefore resulted in an extra two years of imprisonment .Yet perhaps the two years decreed from On High were due to the fact that Joseph’s request caused a diminishing of the greatness of G-d in the eyes of the Wine Steward .

 

The greatest purpose of mankind is to be G-d’s language in the world. That is why G-d chose a people, as an example , to reveal that truth to the whole world. “You are my witnesses," declares Hashem, "and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no G-d was formed, nor will there be one after me.”( Isaiah 43:10)).

That opportunity to be G-d’s language accelerates on Joseph’s release from prison.

"I have heard say of you," says Pharaoh, "that you can understand a dream to interpret it." "It is not me," says Joseph. "G-d shall give Pharaoh a favorable answer.".( ibid 41:15-16)

The effect on Pharaoh is noticeable in his declaration to Joseph;

"Since G-d has shown you all this," says Pharaoh to Joseph, "there is none as understanding and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be ruled; only in the throne will I be greater than you."(ibid:40)

 

It is not coincidental, then, that the torah portion of Miketz is always read during Hanukah. The two events are intricately connected.

The whole point of the Hanukah lights is Pirsumei Nissa, Proclaiming and Publicizing the miracle.

These  Hanukkah lights seems to highlight the smaller miracle of the jar of oil. One might ask why  such emphasis on such a small miracle, which is much less impactful than the victory of the few against the many (The Maharal). The military victory represented the end of spiritual and physical domination, while the jar of oil simply ensured the continuance of the light.

The military victory, the Maharal explains, was a great miracle. Regrettably the source of such a great miracle is usually attributed to military power and tactics. The Divine origins of such a victory can be lost amidst the din of the adulation for the victors.

G-d used the jar of oil as a signature, to clarify the “Author” of all miracles. It is about revealing and proclaiming Hashem’s Presence.

That proclamation would be Joseph’s role throughout history even until the end of days.

Joseph represented the concept of revealing G-d in the midst of the physical. He represented the power to change and enhance the physical surroundings around us and connecting it to its spiritual roots.

That is the subtext of the rabbinic concept of the Messiah ben Joseph. There is only one Redeemer and he is the “son of David “. Yet the period before those final days would be a period where the physical reality of the people would be reorganized and elevated. Maran Harav Kook described the State of Israel as the essence of the period of time called “ Messiah Ben Joseph”. The physical gathering and uplifting of the people before the spiritual outburst.

The climactic final chapter of this story of destiny has the concept and metaphor of “Joseph” being materialized in the reborn state of Israel. Yet it too will falter when the yearning for physical wellbeing supersedes in importance the spiritual purpose.

 It is then that Joseph’s role will be superseded by the descendant of Yehuda( Judah) and the physical and the spiritual will combine. It is then that the light of the menorah will shine for all to see.

LeRefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther





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