Here in Florida, we’re a bit behind the rest of the nation, but the weather is finally changing, and so are our wardrobes. We’re wearing sweaters and jackets, digging out gloves and hats. But despite the different clothing, we still recognize each other.

Not so with Joseph and his brothers in this week’s Torah portion. When the brothers come before the viceroy in Egypt, it could never occur to them that the man dressed in the garb of Egyptian royalty might be the brother they sold into slavery years before.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that this is the fifth in a series of Biblical stories in which clothes play a key role. He writes:

“The first story is Jacob who dresses in Esau’s clothes so that he can take his brother’s blessing. Second is Joseph’s coat of many colors, which the brothers bring back to their father stained in blood, saying that a wild animal must have seized him.

“Third is the story of Tamar taking off her widow’s attire and making herself look as if she were a prostitute.  Fourth is the robe Joseph leaves in the hands of Potiphar’s wife while escaping her attempt to seduce him. The fifth is the one in today’s parasha in which Pharaoh dresses Joseph as a high-ranking Egyptian.”

Rabbi Sacks concludes, “What all five cases have in common is that they facilitate deception.”

I’ve been thinking about what he said, and that in truth, all clothing facilitates deception of one kind or another. We dress in certain ways to influence the way people think about us. Blue jeans signify one thing, a suit and tie signify another.  Different sets of clothing, worn by the same person in different circumstances, send different messages.

But the people who we love, the ones who know us best, aren’t deceived by what we wear. They know our true selves, regardless of the outer trappings. This is the tragedy of Joseph’s brothers. They never truly knew him. They were more aware of his many-colored coat, which caused so much jealousy and misunderstanding, than of his essence as a person.

It’s all too easy to be distracted by a person’s outer trappings.  May we remember to look beyond appearances, and seek out the humanity in all of the people we encounter.