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The Inside Clothing We Wear #666

02/26/2021 06:41:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Tetzavah
The Inside clothing We Wear

It’s fashion week in the Torah.

So, what does that have to do with you and me? A lot, according to our Sages.

We don’t know whether Abraham sported a quick wash and dry fabric, or what brand of sandals Sarah wore. With the notable exception of Joseph and his multi-colored coat, the Torah doesn’t seem to notice what people wear.

Until this week.

This week’s Parashah, Tetzaveh (You shall instruct), goes into great detail regarding what the Kohanim, the priests, wore as they stood before the people and conducted their work around the Ten Commandments in the Tent of Meeting.

The Torah tells us that they wore full-length tunics, linen underwear, colored fabrics, jeweled breastplates, special turbans and long sashes above the waist. That’s a lot of detail.


Perhaps not. For while our tradition teaches that the “inside” of a person matters most, this week, the Torah seems to be reinforcing that appearance does matter at times.

Indeed, for those of us who have become “best friends” with a particular pair of sweatpants or a certain t-shirt, the parashah holds some relevance.

In some ways, our clothes remind us that we are not the same as everyone else — and that every day is unique.

The great Italian fashion designer, Prada, once said "What you wear is how you present yourself to the world. Fashion is instant language."

What kind of language have we been speaking?

During the initial days of the pandemic, many enjoyed putting their work clothes aside — worrying about only what showed up on the Zoom screen.

But over time, the repetitiveness of our days leached into how we physically present to those around us and to ourselves. 

The Kabbalists— the mystics — advanced this idea, noting that every day, we surround ourselves with not only physical garments, but also spiritual ones.

When we awaken each day, we face choices regarding what spiritual clothes to wear. What garment will we put on? Will it be a garment of light — "Good morning — how are you?” — Or a vestment of gloom — “Oy, another day — more misery.”

My mentor, Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, of blessed memory, had a saying, or perhaps it was a teaching: “Always be the first to say, “Hello.”

Over the years, following that advice, I have been able to make new and unexpected friends, and sometimes assist those who did not have the courage to reach out.

When I visited Rabbi Joe in Tel Aviv, he would greet complete strangers with, Boker tov!” “Good morning,” as we’d walk down the alleys of the old Yemenite quarter to synagogue each morning. At first, the strangers would look up, confused and sometimes alarmed. But within seconds, each would respond with, “Boker Or,” or “Boker M’Vorach” “A day of light,” or “A blessed day" (to you).

Rabbi Joe’s simple gesture completely changed their attitudes.

The Kabbalists also taught that three major levels of clothing surround our souls: Thought, speech and action.

Thought is an inner garment. To a certain extent, we can control how to perceive or react to the external world, and how others react to us.

Speech is another garment. What are the first words out of our mouths each morning? Will they inspire and engage, or will they lead us into complacency and stagnation?

Finally, there’s the garment of action. We often say, “I can’t control my world.” During this past year, we’ve all been inclined to blame government, Covid, society — even those we live with.

Yet, experts tell us that habits, like clothing, can be changed.

Agreed, clothing has taken on too much meaning. We worship designer labels. Our children can often be ruthless toward those who don’t wear the coolest brands.

This week’s Torah portion reminds us to achieve a balance. Gold should not be used to worship a calf, but it can be part of a sacred garment, as we present ourselves to a higher power.

People dress up to go to work, or connect with friends or a potential mate. Why not for God? Why not for ourselves?

The clothing designer Ralph Lauren once said, “I don’t sell clothes, I sell dreams.”

What dreams do our inner and outer clothes project? Does our clothing inspire us toward positive energy — like a new suit, dress or pair of jeans — or will it lead us to stagnation like that big and greying pair of underwear.

In particular, during these times of pandemic, where routines run the danger of numbing our individuality, let us remember that physical and spiritual garments do matter.

The priests of the Bible dressed up for God. We can do the same. Let us remember this, as we greet each new day.

Indeed, clothes do play a part — especially now. More than ever, after a year of pandemic, let us embrace the Torah’s model — to balance both our inner and outer garments.

Even during these difficult times, it is still a privilege to be part of this amazing world. We are on the verge of making it to the other side. Let us dress ourselves accordingly.

We can make each day special by the clothing we wear and the thoughts, speech and actions to which we commit.

For, as our tradition teaches, both from within and without, we are the garments in which we wrap our souls each and every day.

Shabbat Shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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