Clothes Make the Man

June 24, 2009

4 min read


Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10 )

Clothing is a source of imagery and metaphor throughout the Torah. From the murder of Joseph, when his brothers drenched his coat in blood, to the holy uniform of the High Priest, clothes teach us lessons on many levels.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve didn't know they were naked. They only needed clothes once they had sinned, which indicates that clothing in some sense is part of our lower self. The nudists have a point: If we were worthy, the human body is a beautiful creation of the Almighty, and doesn't need to be hidden. But since it is the source of our mistake in the Garden of Eden, we need to deemphasize it.

Clothing serves to deemphasize the part of us that is attracted to the physical realm.

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Clothing is not only linked to the body, but is a metaphor for the body. Just as clothing serves the body, the body serves the soul. You are a soul, and you are given a body to wear in this world. When you leave this realm and move on to the next, you leave your clothing behind. The less attached you are to physicality; the easier it is to leave it behind.

Just as you wouldn't mistake your sleeve for your arm, so too, you shouldn't confuse your body and your soul. The body is not you; the soul is you.

Also, it would be silly to conform your body to your shirt. If you are given a shirt a size too big, it would be silly to gain weight just to fill out the shirt. Your body is more important, and takes precedence over your clothes. Similarly it would be silly to conform your soul's desires to the desires of the body. Your soul is more important, and takes precedence over your body.

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If you've got it, don't flaunt it.

Modesty is another aspect of clothing. We want to emphasize the person, not the body. The body is a distraction. In order for your personality and your character to shine forth, you can't be distracting other people by showing off your body parts.

Since men and women relate to the opposite sex differently, their style of modesty differs. What's a distraction for men is not necessarily a distraction for women, and vice versa. Men are generally more superficial and more easily distracted by the body. Therefore women are doing men a great favor by dressing modestly. But they are doing themselves an even bigger favor, because if a woman is modestly dressed, men will relate to her brains, personality, and character instead of her body parts. She may get less "attention," but she will command more respect.

By covering up what is superficial, we reveal what is more important.

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Many people in society wear a particular type of clothing to indicate their position or job. Each branch of the military has its own unique uniform. Judges, doctors, policemen and others are proud to wear a uniform that indicates an important position in society.

Similarly, the kohen-priests in the Temple had important functions as emissaries, performing the holy service on behalf of the Jewish people. The importance of this position warranted a set of clothing that was special, and gave off an air of importance.

A kippah is a head covering that indicates a respect for the Creator. Tzitzit are ritual fringes that are attached to a four-cornered garment. Shatnez is a prohibition on wearing wool and lined threads woven together. There is a way to serve God with your clothing through these specific commandments, through modest dress, and through your mindset that you want to be an example of God in the world.

You can serve God through your clothing in many ways. Something that we do every single day, something that many people take for granted or do robotically, can be elevated to a holy act, just like the kohen in the Holy Temple.

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Spiritual Exercise:

For the next few days, each time you get dressed, ask yourself if God would approve of the way you're dressed.

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