We often say that appearances are deceiving. It is a well-known saying. And it is in the Torah above all.
Through the different parashot and characters that compose them, it’s like the text is telling us: “don’t be impressed or fooled by what you think you see at first. Look deeper.” And this happens especially with respect to clothing or what covers nudity.
Particularly since Yaakov, when he appeared before his father Yitzhak disguised as his brother Esav, and until the moment that this week we read in our parashah in which Pharaoh “dressed Yosef in fine linen robes and put a gold chain around his neck. He made him ride the carriage of his second-in-command...” (Bereshit 41:42-43).
We find various episodes in which the clothing changes and somehow hides the wearer.
We have already mentioned the costume of Esav that Yaakov wore in front of his father to receive the blessing of the firstborn instead of his brother.
We can take the gift of the colored tunic that Yaakov gave to Yosef as an episode in which garments makes Yosef arrogant in front of his brothers. Later, they use this same tunic to deceive Yaakov by staining it with blood, so that their father would believe that Yosef had died, when the truth was that they had sold him as a slave.
Then we see a Tamar, who dresses as a prostitute to claim her right to be part of her husband’s family, once he had left her no offspring due to his premature death. The clothing again fools an unsuspecting Yehudah, who fails to see that the prostitute is nothing less than his own daughter-in-law.
Once again, a tunic in the hands of Potiphar’s wife takes center stage: she rips it off to accuse him of wanting to sexually violate her, given Yosef’s refusal to harass her. Once more, clothing is used for deception.
Then we get to the last one, in the parashah that concerns us, having already said that it is Pharaoh who dresses Yosef with luxurious garments. These are the ones that prevent his brothers from recognizing him: Yosef was covered by royal apparel and make up in the Egyptian style.
It is as if the text warned us over and over again, even from Adam and Eve when they were tempted to eat the forbidden fruit, that what attracts us and provokes us is not always the truth of what really happens or of what could or not lead us to a good or better conclusion.
Yosef’s brothers were carried away by the jealousy that the appearance of the colored tunic caused them. Yehudah was carried away by the attraction that the supposed prostitute caused him. And although Tamar’s story ended well, the development reads somewhat gruesome.
Yosef’s brothers can’t see him behind the royal attire. And they are subjected to an interrogation and desperate moments in a kind of revenge that Yosef takes in the face of all that he had to suffer because of the envy and jealousy that they had for him.
If we let ourselves be carried away by appearances, we will not be able to get a good judgment from the people around us, or from the situations we go through. And it’s interesting how everything in our tradition has more to do with the other senses rather than sight. We don’t have images. Adonai created only with the word, what He said was heard and things happened. And the proclamation of the oneness of God is given by the Shema, “listen to it”, too. Not by seeing miracles, but by hearing His words.
Let’s use our other senses in addition to sight, to perceive and learn. To better evaluate and decide. To unite, instead of separating us.
And, above all, to achieve better links for a better world in the kingdom of God.
Rabbi Gustavo Geier