This week's portion: unrecognizable
December 24, 2008
When Pharaoh placed his signet
on my hand, dressed me in gold
and cloaked me in new syllables
I became unrecognizable
even to my own brothers
who prostrated before me.
All these years I'd imagined
reunion, though in my wildest dreams
I never pictured it like this
how my brothers tore into dinner
as though they feared deep down
there wouldn't be enough...
I turned away and wept
but I hid my sorrow, not ready
to show my true face
or how I had yearned
for the relationship we still
didn't know how to have.
In this week's portion, Miketz, Pharaoh dreams dreams of cattle and of ears of grain. When no one else can interpret them, the cupbearer remembers Joseph who had interpreted his dreams in prison. Joseph is sent-for and when he successfully interprets Pharaoh's dreams, he impressed Pharaoh so much that he is made vizier of Egypt on the spot.
I love the repeated symbolism of clothing in the Joseph novella. Joseph has that multicolored tunic, which is then torn away from him and dipped in blood to fool his father; Potiphar's wife tears at his clothing when he refuses to accede to her sexual demands, and uses the scrap to "prove" his guilt. Then, in this week's portion, when Pharoah calls for Joseph the servants hurry to cut his hair and change his clothes; and once Joseph enters Pharaoh's employ, he is adorned with gold and linen and with Pharaoh's own signet ring.
Clothes can manifest our sense of ourselves, or they can disguise who we truly are. Just so, the faces we choose to present to the world. In this week's portion, I see Joseph choosing to hide his true face from his brothers just a little while longer. How do we hide our faces from each other in our daily lives? In what do we cloak ourselves: for protection, for concealment, for pretense, for beauty? What are we afraid would happen if we let one another see?