Selected Sermon/Article
2001-03-10 Tetzaveh by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Clothing; for Honor and Glory
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 overwhelming.

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 dramatically.

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 inner identities?

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.

Good Shabbos

(adapted from an essay by Rabbi Shraga Simmons)