Why Are You Wearing That?
How is your Latin? If I told you vestis virum facit - would you agree? It means “clothes make the man.”
Can it really be that man, a free-willed flesh-and-blood powerhouse fashioned in G-d’s image, can be influenced and affected by the things he wears, mere shmatas? The answer is yes. Yet, when the Torah tells us that clothing has an impact, we don't want to believe it, because fashion has evolved somewhat since the days of Moses and society along with it. So, what can the Torah tell me about my outfit that Michael Kors and Armani can’t say better? Well, the Torah teaches us that clothing is vital to our well-being, while fashion’s ephemeral statements have something different to say every season. Then science comes along and validates what the Torah has been saying for 3333 years: What one wears can affect one’s entire life. The scientific term is called “Enclothed Cognition,” and the science goes on to prove the systematic influence that clothes (as well as their colors) have on the wearer's psychological processes so much so that it can even influence one’s hormones. While most acknowledge the power of garments, the mention of G-d and religion seem to make all logic disappear. Through the years, we have all heard people brag about going to restaurants that demanded a dinner jacket. We are all familiar with golf courses which have their rules as to what their members may or may not wear. Do we not each have our own power suits, our first date outfits and the things we’d never wear to court because we acknowledge the power of impression? G-d was indeed the first “Fashion Guru.” In this week’s Torah reading of Tetzaveh, we learn about the detailed instructions which He gives to Moses regarding the clothing the Kohanim (priests) are to wear while serving in the Temple: “You shall make vestments of sanctity…for dignity and adornment.” (Shemot 28:2). For certain, the elaborate beautiful garments would increase their honor and reverence. But it goes much deeper than that. The Kohanim were only permitted to perform their service in the Temple if they were wearing those specific garments. According to the sages, the eight holy garments worn by the Kohain Hagadol (the High Priest) were each designed to atone for a particular sin. The clothing had spiritual repercussions. They were intrinsic to the atonement process. The mystical reverberations of the priestly garments are beyond our comprehension, but the lessons they seek to teach are very understandable. G-d cares about our outfits. They are transducers and invite or repel and emit certain energies. Clothes are the closest thing to us; they are basically a part of us. Each one of us is part of a priestly people, a mamlechet kohanim, and must dress the part. “You will be for Me a Kingdom of Priests and a holy people.” (Exodus 19:6) In fact, the Talmudic sage, Rabbi Ḥanina, said that anyone who treats clothing with contempt, like David who tore Saul’s robe, will be punished in that ultimately he will not benefit from his garments. Indeed, at the end of his life, clothes did not keep King David warm. The Gemara says that a talmid chacham (rabbinic scholar) who has a disgraceful soiled spot on his clothing is liable for death. Instead of dismissing it as drastic, think more deeply about the power of clothing. We tend to just throw on an outfit or toss it on the floor when done. This is not proper behavior. Our relationship with our closest ally is quite complex. We learn that the clothing of the Israelites didn’t wear out or get soiled for the 40 years of their wandering in the desert. This was a gift from Hashem, showing the importance of dignified appearance. The Kabbalah teaches us that clothing protects us from evil forces. Adam and Eve were clothed in a protective G-dly light before they sinned. Only after they sinned did they lose that Divine protection and need clothing. And so, just as a long-sleeved shirt can protect you from the sun, clothing protects us from harmful energies. How many people do you see wearing a red string to ward off bad energies because they already believe that what we wear protects us physically and spiritually? The problem is that when it comes to G-d, we’d prefer no strings attached. In addition, the modesty prescribed by Judaism for both men and women is meant to protect us, to conceal and sublimate the animal and to emphasize the G-dly. Some erroneously think that Judaism advocates modesty with a primitive mindset to subjugate women. The truth is the opposite. The teachings are meant to dignify women and not cheapen them as modern society does.