Some people wear clothing, and for other people clothing wears them. As a little girl, I had trouble deciding what to wear each day. My parents used to joke as they received their nightly fashion show that I would be so much better off if I just had a uniform. True, if I had a uniform, my parents would be assured that I wouldn’t come out dressed in mismatching patterns or colors, but in my mind I was afraid that a uniform might take away my sense of style (or lack thereof) if I wasn’t able to share my personal pizzazz.
Throughout time, clothing has become an industry, and we associate different styles of dress with different personalities and different clothing lines with price points. Clothing also gives clues to one’s occupation – scrubs might mean a doctor or surgeon, blue uniform might mean police officer, white lab coat might denote a scientist, overalls a workman or painter. What we put on our bodies indicates in certain ways our actions in life.
When Adam and Eve first noticed their nakedness, they covered themselves in haste. They didn’t spend time figuring out which designer (Calvin Vine or Tommy Hil-fig-leafer) fit their body types best or which store had the best sales. They just covered themselves. Since the events of Gan Eden, human beings have been uncomfortable in nothing but their own skin. We have a need to cover up our bodies out of modesty and respect.
Our parshah, parshat Tetzaveh, reminds us of the message our clothing sends about us. It is here in the Torah that we are given the description of the priestly garments. Every layer is associated with their occupation, from their clothing to the accessories and from simple linen garments to metal breastplates and jackets. Aaron’s sons must wear their uniforms to work each day, each piece representing a different middah (attribute) expected of them in their position of holiness and working with God. Aaron’s sons could not go to work in their play clothes, throwing on a pair of ripped jeans and a t-shirt in order to do their job. Their uniform instilled in them a sense of purpose, authority and respect. These garments could not be worn by just anyone, they were special.
A uniform can diminish power struggles by maintaining a sense of sameness and conformity among the group, but it can also instill special authority in the wearer since only a person in that position or organization may wear it. We see this when our 8th grade students are able to wear their blue shirts for the first time. This blue shirt represents 8th grade, the year of the Israel trip, graduation, uniqueness and growth. Tallit and tefillin offer a similar status of exclusivity when we reach the age of b’nai mitzvah.
But, the uniform is only what goes on top. The uniform is the cover, the mantle of position and of belonging. What’s underneath is what counts. Without the uniform, Aaron’s sons are not kohanim, they are boys; without the prescribed ritual, their act becomes not a communal offering but a personal gesture. I’m not sure it’s true that the “clothing makes the man,” but perhaps it’s that the clothing represents how the man feels about himself.
Parshat Tetzaveh stands to remind us that our outsides should match our insides, and when we’re not in “uniform” we are still asked to represent ourselves as holy beings, as creatures with an even greater occupation. We are to clothe ourselves in a way that shows our commitment to justice, to modesty, and to respecting ourselves as God’s creations.
Family Discussion Questions:
- Our ‘ethical covenant’ teaches us the value of Shmirat HaGuf, guarding our bodies, both physically in eating right, but also in presentation. How can your clothing change the way a person perceives you? How should you keep this in mind when dressing?
- The priests were clothed with the breast-piece of judgement, the jacket that discouraged gossip, a coat that prevented them from idolatry. What are you clothed in?