Thursday, December 6, 2018

Masked and Unmasked

Rabbi Larry Kushner observes that throughout the Joseph story, our hero Joseph often changes clothes. In the opening chapters, his father places the coat of many colors on him and then his brothers tear it from him. There is as well the garment torn from him by Potiphar’s wife when she tries to seduce him. And finally, in this week’s portion the following: “Pharaoh had him dressed in robes of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck.” (Genesis 41)

By the time his brothers come before him, in search of food to stave their hunger from famine, Joseph looks like an Egyptian. He is unrecognizable. His clothes, and apparently his mannerisms and language, allow him to hide from them despite the fact that he stands right in front of them. Now it is left to him alone to remove these clothes. Still, he is not yet able to tear the trappings of his Egyptian identity and reveal himself to his brothers.

What do we hide? What do we reveal?

Soon Joseph will remove his mask and embrace his brothers in forgiveness. He is only able to do this after he comes to believe that they have changed. When they refuse to consign their younger brother Benjamin to slavery as they once did Joseph he is able to reveal himself. It is then that Joseph unmasks his true identity. Joseph discovers that he is more a brother, and a member of the family of Israel, than an Egyptian. His inner self becomes one with his outer identity.

Are we the same on the outside as we are on the inside? Is it possible to achieve such harmony?

Yesterday our country observed a day of mourning for President George H.W. Bush. Of the many remembrances shared I was most struck by those of his son, President George W. Bush. In this weekend’s 60 Minutes interview he said that he once asked his father the following, “Dad do you ever think about the war?” His father responded, “I think about Delaney and White all the time.” They were the two crew mates who died when his plane crashed. It was a startling revelation.

Despite all the accolades about Bush’s wartime heroism: the grainy film of him being rescued by a submarine, the reports of his nearly 60 missions, the pictures of him in his Navy dress uniform and the many government jobs he achieved: president, vice-president, CIA director, congressman, he remained bound to the two friends killed over 70 years ago. Their memories occupied his thoughts.

Their deaths were the hidden hands that directed his life. It appeared as if their memories impelled his service.

It was not the uniforms—and the many achievements, but the loss. It was not the heroism and the years of service, but instead the friends—or more accurately, their absence that guided his life.

I sensed his pain.

Uniforms hide the cost of war. (Perhaps this is their intention.) Achievements mask our inner struggles.

The soul was laid bare.

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