Miketz – Hats and Jackets

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 In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Miketz, Pharaoh had two dreams which he insisted needed interpretation. Eventually the Chamberlain of Butlers remembered that Yosef was in jail, and how he had rightfully interpreted his dream and the dream of the Chamberlain of the Butchers. The Torah then details, “So Pharaoh sent and summoned Yosef, and they rushed him from the dungeon. He shaved and changed his clothes, and he came to Pharaoh” (Breishis 41:14).
The Moshav Zekeinim, rightfully assuming that Yosef, like his forefathers, kept the entire Torah, asks a penetrating question. The gemara in Rosh Hashanah 11b says that Yosef got out of jail on Rosh Hashanah; if so, how could he have shaven on Yom Tov? The Moshav Zekeinim has two answers; either he shaved the next day or because of the life-threatening danger of the kingship, the circumstances were different, and he was allowed to shave that day [in order not to risk his life by coming in front of the king in a disrespectful manner]. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Ralbag learns from this episode “that it is proper for when one comes before a great person, that he should adorn himself with nice clothing and doing other things, as much as possible, to glorify the great people. In this fashion as well, one’s words will be more listened to. For this reason, Yosef shaved and changed his clothing when he came before the king. And for this reason, the great chasidim (righteous people) would adorn themselves [in their best clothing] when they davened before Hashem, in His honor. Just as Chaza”l interpret the pasuk, “This is my G-D and I will beautify him” (Shemos 15:2 in “az yashir”). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The great righteous people of yesteryear, who lived a thousand plus years ago, must have worn what is the equivalent today of a tuxedo when praying before Hashem. Because of their level and relationship with Hashem, the King Of All Kings, they realized that if Yosef was allowed to break Yom Tov to not risk his life in order to show respect to a worldly king, Pharaoh, then all the more so they should dress their very best whenever davening before The King Of All Kings, Master Of The Universe. Now a days people wear jackets and hats when davening for that very reason, but at the very least one should be put together, shirt tucked in, etc.

It would seem, according to the Ralbag, that Hashem would not listen to our prayers as closely if we weren’t put together and well dressed in front of Him. Why not? If a person prays very slowly, thinking of each word and has deep kavana,[proper intent], then why isn’t that enough? Hashem knows what’s in everyone’s heart and why should outward appearance be a deciding factor as to whether to acknowledge and listen to a person, like  human kings do? However, it would seem that not dressing appropriately in front of Hashem while praying shows a lack of dedication, respect, and honor towards Hashem. Wanting to dress in a way that feels comfortable to yourself, instead of in a formal respectful manner, is caring more for yourself than the honor and reverence of a leader and certainly of the ultimate leader, G-D, and Hashem of course calculates that in one’s intent.