Beneath the Disguise
Parashat Miketz, Genesis 41:1-44: 17
by Jared Eaton, Simchat Yisrael, West Haven, CT
In this week’s parasha, following a long and eventful separation from his family, Joseph is finally reunited with his brothers after a famine forces them to travel to Egypt in search of provisions. However, in a case of dramatic irony, Joseph’s brothers are completely unaware of how momentous this meeting is, since they fail to recognize Joseph, now an Egyptian viceroy, as their own long lost sibling.
I have the same complaint about this story as I do with every Superman comic ever written; Why don’t Clark Kent’s friends realize that he’s Superman? He’s not even wearing a mask! I think I’d recognize one of my co-workers, even if he took off his glasses and slicked back his hair, and I’m certain that I would recognize my own brother, even if it had been a few years and he was wearing one of those funny Egyptian hats. And yet when Joseph meets his brothers, not one of them recognizes him.
It does seem unlikely, but the brother’s obliviousness is not that strange if you look at it within the context of the greater story of Genesis. Torah has a way of drawing attention to important ideas through the use of recursive themes. Throughout the Torah, and especially in Genesis, we see the same stories being played out again and again.
On three separate occasions, a patriarch will leave home during a famine and disguise his wife as his sister to avoid being killed in a strange land. On three separate occasions, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses will all find their future brides at a well, watering their animals. And here in Mikeitz, we see the fourth occasion that someone uses a disguise to achieve their ends.
The first was Jacob tricking his father by wearing his brother Esau’s clothing. The second was Laban tricking Jacob into marrying Leah by disguising her as Rachel. The third was Tamar, disguising herself as a prostitute to sleep with Judah. And now, Joseph disguises himself to his brothers in order to test them.
In each case, the disguise seems exceedingly flimsy. Isaac may have been blind, but he still should have been able to tell his sons apart. Jacob didn’t even disguise his voice. And Jacob spent seven years longing after Rachel, yet spent an entire intimate night with Leah before realizing he’d been tricked. These are not brilliant disguises here! How is it that these people were blind to the true identities of those closest to them?
The answer may lie in the book of Isaiah. When God gives the prophet his commission he tells Isaiah:
Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed. Isaiah 6:10
Verse 44:18 tells us something similar: “They have not known nor understood: for He has shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.”
In these verses, we see that God sometimes works by closing the eyes of his people to the truth, in order for something greater to be fulfilled.
In this context, perhaps it’s not so strange that so many people were fooled by such transparent disguises. Had Isaac recognized Jacob, our patriarch might never have gone on his journey of transformation. Had Jacob seen through Laban’s obvious deceit, he would never have married the woman who bore seven of his children. And if Joseph’s brothers realized who he was, true reconciliation would never had happened.
By closing their eyes, God allowed these people to see a greater truth when he opened them again. Isaac finally saw Jacob as a son who deserved to be blessed. Jacob finally saw Leah as a wife deserving of a husband. Judah finally saw Tamar as a woman deserving a child, and the sons of Israel finally saw Joseph as their true brother.
In each case, the end result of the deception was the restoration of relationship and the coming together of God’s plans for his people. Isaac, Jacob Judah and Joseph’s brothers all needed to be blind to the disguises so that when the veil was lifted they could see what God’s plan truly was.
This is an encouraging thought for Messianic Jews. In a world where the greater part of the Jewish people have failed to recognize Yeshua as the promised Messiah and the son of God, I can find hope in the knowledge that God sometimes blinds his people to the truth, but he never does it permanently.
The sons of Jacob didn’t recognize Joseph for who he was at first. But when the truth was revealed, Israel was saved and the family made whole again. And we can take comfort, knowing that the eyes of Israel have been blinded only for a short time.
The time will come when God removes the veil from his people’s eyes and all of Israel will finally see who Yeshua truly is. And just as Joseph restored his family, so too will Yeshua restore our nation, put our family back together and make our world whole again.