- subtle, but perhaps very meaningful differences in interpretation. Did Yosef choose to do this, was he compelled to, or was it mutually assumed it was proper? It is no surprise that people were expected to go before Pharaoh in a presentable manner.)
Still, every jot and tittle has a purpose. So why even bother to mention that Joseph cut his hair (or had it cut) and changed his clothes?
We can easily assign it a redactive or literary purpose by saying that it was intended to illustrate proper respect before a monarch. (We see priestly and monarchal influences in the beginning of B'reshit, and perhaps the hand of a priestly redactor was at work here, too. ) Building from that interpretation, we can even extrapolate that we are being instructed to be clean and well dressed in the presence of G"d, who is, after all, our ultimate Sovereign.
But if this is indeed the case, why are we told in I Samuel, 16.7, that while man looks on outward appearances, G"d looks upon the heart?
Maybe we have the interpretation backwards? Maybe the information about Yosef shaving and changing clothes is there to remind us not that we need dress before G"d, but to remind us that it is only foolish mortals who put so much stock in appearance? Yosef was able to interpret dreams of others while in prison. He certainly wasn't well groomed then. And yet G"d was able to use Yosef as an instrument then. So, perhaps it was for Pharaoh, and not G"d, that Yosef was "cleaned up" before his appearance.
What is the proper dress for worship? What is the proper appearance in the presence of a sovereign, a civic leader, a statesman? The debate has been raging a few decades now (or perhaps longer-it just seems more prevalent these days. After all, how should a prophet dress?) Who do we really seek to please when we dress up for these occasions? Is it G"d? Or humans?
Or is it yet something else entirely? I still dress up for worship. Not because I am trying to please G"d-but because it makes me feel good-to be clean, and have a neat appearance. And when I feel comfortable and good about myself, I am likely to be more receptive to G"d. Yosef knew this, and perhaps this is why he appeared neatly before Pharaoh-because he knew he was there to do G"d's work. Now there's a reason to dress up.
I've heard it argued that if one is truly in need, perhaps it is necessary to bring it to G"d's attention by wearing jeans with holes in the knees. This flies in the face of the idea that G"d is omniscient, but then, it doesn't matter if G"d is truly omniscient or not- what matters is what G"d does in response to what G"d knows - and what we do in response to what we know. I haven't seen anyone zapped like Nadav and Avihu anytime recently simply because they came to shul in shorts and a t-shirt. If the kavannah is there, what matters the clothes?
We don't know, and aren't told who insisted that Yosef clean up. And perhaps this is exactly why we are told this seemingly insignificant piece of information in Torah. To make us wonder about it.
Whether you pray in jeans or a suit, there's little doubt in my mind that that how you feel about yourself is going to affect your connection with G"d. Whether G"d cares even one little iota what we wear or how we dress is anybody's guess. As Shabbat approaches, think of what best prepares you to meet the Queen. A shave, a haircut, nice clean clothes? Or a pure heart and open mind? Or some mixture of both? Or none of the above? Wishing you and yours a Hag Oorim Sameakh and Shabbat Shalom,
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Urim Sameakh,
©1999 & 2006 by Adrian A. Durlester
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