TORAH TUESDAYS: PARSHAT TETZAVEH
BY HENNIE BLACK
tHIS WEEK’S PARSHA LOOKS AT THE CLOTHING OF THE KOHANIM, THE PRIESTS, WHO SERVED IN THE MISHKAN.
HOW IMPORTANT are THE CLOTHES OF THE KOHEN AFTER ALL? DID THEY SERVE A SPIRITUAL PURPOSE?
AND WHAT ARE THE LESSONS FOR US IN THE WAY WE USE CLOTHING?
Parshat Tetzaveh describes in great detail the clothing of the kohanim who served in the mishkan. The Torah tells us that the purpose of the kohen’s clothes were for “kavod and tiferet,” meaning “glory and honour.”
Could these descriptors with regards to the kohen’s clothing apply to clothing in general? Is clothing supposed to confer “glory and honour” on every person who wears them?
Clothing has two purposes: It serves as a protection to our body, acting as a barrier from environmental factors, such as rain and cold. Clothing also affects our behaviour and our mood; it impacts our self-image as well as how others perceive us.
There is a popular phrase, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” What we wear makes a statement about who we are and who we aspire to be.
On the most basic level, clothing covers us up. But on a more sublime level, it affects our mood and energies either positively or negatively. The kohen’s priestly clothes helped to elevate him and put him in the proper frame of mind for his responsibilities—performing holy work in a holy place.
The Torah emphasizes the importance of dressing with dignity so as to allow others to look at more than our externals. Dressing with dignity allows others to see who we really are on the inside, to see our spiritual and soul- like qualities. More than altering perceptions, clothing can actually change us. It can impact the way we think, speak and act, allowing our inner glory to shine through the clothes we wear.
The first time we are introduced to the subject of clothing is in the Garden of Eden. Right after Adam and Eve sinned, they realized their nakedness, and Hashem clothed them. Before Adam and Eve sinned, they only saw matters of the spirit and soul and therefore did not recognize their nakedness. Only after they sinned, when their spiritual level fell, did clothing become a necessity. It acted as a way to hide their nakedness and shame, serving the purpose of guarding and protecting their spirits from suffering further humiliation.
We see the centrality of clothing later in the story of the Exodus from Egypt. One of the reasons that we merited redemption from the slavery in Egypt was due to clothing. We are taught that the Jewish people were redeemed because they did not change their names, their language, and their mode of dress. Because of their refusal to be acculturated through language and dress, the ancient Israelite slaves were able to hold on to their spiritual essence and connection to Hashem- even in the midst of oppression and enslavement. Here clothing served the purpose of guarding and maintaining their identities.
As we approach the holiday of Purim, we see clothing take an important role yet again with numerous references to clothing throughout the megillah: Mordechai dresses in sackcloth when mourning the fate of the Jewish people and Esther dresses in the royal garb to approach the King unannounced.
Both Mordechai and Esther conjure up a state-of-mind to help them deal with the situation at hand. Clothing was a facilitator, a channel, a medium to express their emotions and to help them embark on a path forward that was difficult but necessary. And today, we remember the Purim story through the tradition of dressing in costumes.
Clothing then has an important role in how we relate to ourselves and to the spiritual world. The Jewish people are known as “Mamlechet Kohanim,” “a nation of priests.” Each one of us is like a kohen and can emulate the kohanim, not only through our thoughts, feelings, and actions—but also through our clothing. When we see ourselves in this way and realize what we represent, we will walk with pride and confidence, with “glory and honour.”