| Though the calendar tells us that spring is just around the corner,
when I wake up in the mornings there's still a nip in the air and ice on my
windshield. I know that spring is really coming, however when my kids
insist on going outside without wearing their coats and jackets. "Put on your
coats -- it's too cold out!", I say. "Oh, c'mon Tati, it's nice out..why do we
have to wear coats?" The answer that I give them, of course, is "A coat is
something for a kid to wear, when your parents are cold!"
This week's parsha describes the purpose of the Kohanim's clothing as
"kavod and tiferes," meaning honor and glory. The Torah states that the
type of clothing that we wear speaks volumes about our honor and glory as human
beings, created in the image of God.
An entire parsha dedicated to clothing, though? Why do human beings
need to wear clothing in the first place, anyway?
We all remember the story of Adam and Chava in the Garden of Eden;
They started out 'naked and unashamed' (Gen 2:25), but after eating from the
tree of Knowledge, the Torah says 'they became aware of their nakedness, and
made themselves clothes" (Gen 3:7)
Why the shift?
Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin explains: Before eating from the Tree, Adam and
Chava saw each other first and foremost as souls. They knew that the soul
is the essence of a human being, with the body serving merely as a protective
covering. Since Adam and Chava were focused on the spiritual side, they
weren't self-conscious about their bodies. However, after eating from the
Tree, their spiritual level dropped and "their eyes opened" to a focus on
the body. The body had now become a distraction from the soul and it needed to
be covered. Hence, the concept of clothing was born!
In the society in which we live, people are typically related to as
physical beings. If you were to ask most people to 'describe so and so,'
they would most probably describe their physical appearance -- e.g., he's
the tall guy, or she's the one with the curly brown hair.
Yet the most important aspect of a person is their spiritual
dimension: their personality, character, talents and dreams. How do we feel when
we're seen only for the outward appearance? Cheap, demeaned and dehumanized.
In our society, women feel the burden of this the most. They suffer
the indignity of harassment and objectification. Madison Avenue has convinced
the Western woman that she must be obsessed with weight, complexion and
fashion. The challenge to resist this peer pressure and media barrage is
The reason why the Torah is so strict about dress for Cohanim, in
particular, and for us in general, is to teach us that it's essential that
we deflect attention from superficial appearance to see others and ourselves
as the real people that we are. Judaism doesn't ask us to dress in a way that
is ugly. However, we shouldn't draw undo attention to the body by being
flamboyant or provocative.
A man who I'll call Joe once was hired to do telephone sales, and
began in his new job by showing up to work in casual attire. Joe said that that
was the advantage of telephone sales -- the clients don't care what you're
wearing! Joe noticed, however, that those most successful on the phone
staff were coming to work every day in a business suit. So one day, he decided
to try it as well. Wearing a suit, Joe remarked that he suddenly found
himself speaking with more confidence, sitting up straight and communicating in a
more professional tone. On the other end of the phone, Joe's clothes
couldn't be seen, but their presence was surely felt. From the time that
Joe began dressing for work in a professional manner, his sales increased
Attention to the way we dress is relevant in thinking about how we
appear when we come to shul. The Torah stipulates that when praying to God -- certainly at shul, but
even at home -- we should be in a clean place and wear nice clothes. Why
is dressing in a formal or semiformal manner important for synagogue? Does
God really require a dress code to hear our prayers? The answer is, of course;
when we dress dignified, we feel dignified. And if we feel dignified,
we're apt to take the activities that we're participating in while 'all dressed
up' a bit more seriously than we would otherwise. Arriving for davening
punctually, maintaining proper decorum, and praying like we really mean it
are extensions of an attitude that shul is a place to get down to business.
I believe that the clothing we wear during the time of davening can go a
long way to foster those attitudes.
The holiday of Purim, which we celebrated yesterday, is when we dress
up in costumes. At first glance, wearing costumes seems contrary to the
concept of clothes as self-revelation. Aren't costumes a false reflection of our
The truth, however, is that many people are confused about who they
really are -- and in effect wear a mask all year round. The masks and
costumes worn on Purim don't hide our true selves, but rather reveal an
even deeper degree of self image!
The lesson of this week's parsha is that clothes have the power to
communicate -- and we need to be sensitive to exactly what messages we're
sending out. Our spiritual health depends on it. Because the more
dignified our clothes are, the more we become free to see ourselves in the pure light
of our souls.
(adapted from an essay by Rabbi Shraga Simmons)