“Make sacral vestments for your brother Aharon, for dignity and adornment” (Sh’mot 28:2)
Between last week’s sidra, Terumah, and this week’s, Tetzaveh, there are more than 70 verses devoted to the details of the “garments” to be worn by the Kohanim. Many of you might remember the advertisement slogan “the clothes make the man”. Is that what we are being taught here with so much detail paid to the clothes worn by those serving Hashem? Why so much attention to external garments?
“While their (priestly) garments are upon them, the priesthood is upon them; if their garments are not upon them, the priesthood is not upon them”. (Zevachim 7b)
This seems like a perfect subject for we women to discuss, clothes! It’s a subject most of us are experts in!
From a psychological perspective, the clothes we wear affect our behavior and our inner well-being, whether we are aware of it or not. When I was in college, I had a professor that taught us the value of dressing for the position we wanted, not for the position we currently had. During my years of “climbing the corporate ladder”, I was always the “over-dresser”. Even when a more casual manner of dress was accepted, I wore more formal clothing, which I felt to be more business appropriate. And I can attest that for me, the way I dress definitely affects my attitude and demeanor.
“Thoughts follow actions. To be sure, external change of costume does not necessarily create a change in inner motivation and thought, but it can, and often succeeds, in beginning the process.” (Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Torah Lights on this week’s sidra)
Special garments occasion special moods.
“So Hashem cast a deep sleep upon the man; and, while he slept, He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that spot. And Hashem fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman; and He gave her to the man……..The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, yet they felt no shame………..And Hashem made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them……He drove the man out, and stationed east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Bereishis 2:21-22, 25, 3:21, 24)
We are all familiar, I am sure, with the story. But I want us to pay attention to the fact that when they were sent into exile it was Hashem Himself that fashioned garments for them. He was the first fashion designer, you could say. Clothing, then, for good reason, plays a very important role in our lives.
“Garments lie at the very root of what make us human. Just as the Almighty created humans in His image, He also fashioned garments for the human being. Remember that, externally, only one thing distinguishes a human being from an animal, and that is that humans wear clothing, while animals do not.” (ibid)
It is also important to remember that the snake remained naked! By fashioning clothes for the man and his wife, Hashem was teaching them to rise above the animals and above their animal nature. Animals run around naked all the time and they are not ashamed. (Ok, so here in Canada I see dogs wearing mud booties and sweaters on a regular basis, but that’s another story!). Humans must cover their nakedness, thereby sanctifying themselves, in an effort to become more like the Creator in Whose image they were created. We are not animals, and it is time we stop acting and dressing as if we were!
From a mystical perspective, Hashem is said to have dressed Himself in “garments” (concealment) in order to allow for the creation. In the synagogue the Torah is covered in a special “garment”, and the Bema is too. There is also a special garment placed in front of the Ark that houses the Torah. Everything holy needs to be covered, and it all began in Bereishis with the human body.
When we forget that our body is holy, then the world around us transforms us instead of our transforming it. Our external garments indicate how closely we identify with our animal nature. We are the mishkan for the Divine Presence to dwell in, if we choose to be, and if we wear the proper garments.
So, to answer our earlier question……….No! Clothes do not make the person, but clothes do distinguish the human being, and separate humans from beasts.
“Within this context, the clothes Adam and Eve wore are not just the consequences of their sin and accompanying sense of shame, they become a potent symbol and practical vehicle for a spiritually uplifting modesty – the physical body and all it’s potential for enslavement to baser desires is hidden, in order to reveal the soul within the body, the real essence of the individual.” (R’ A. A. Trugman, Orchard of Delight, on Tetzaveh).
Just look out the window and it is not hard to see we live in a society of immodesty. And the more immodestly people dress, the more animalistic their behavior becomes. Billboards, T.V. shows, movies, and magazines are all full of half-naked (or worse) men and women. The most powerful influences for choosing a style of dress is our environment and peer-pressure. No one wants to be the “weirdo” dressed unfashionably, as we all have an innate desire to be accepted and appreciated. But what is “pleasing to the eye” can cause us to desire fashions which are coarse and unfit for daughter’s of the King! We should learn from Eve, that just because something is pleasing to our eye, that does not mean it’s a good choice!
“She dresses in clothes of strength and regality” (Mishlei 31:25 describing an Eshet Chayil)
“Strength lies in conforming with the ordinances of the Torah” (Shir HaShirim Rabba 2:10)
The Eshet Chayil displays her strength by being totally compliant with the laws of modesty (tzniut). She dresses herself in dignified garments that display a tasteful refinement.
“On the one hand her clothes are an embodiment of strength, as they fulfill to perfection the requirements of the Torah. On the other hand, her clothes are aesthetically pleasing and eminently tasteful. With them she brings simcha to her husband, close family and friends.” (Modesty – An Adornment for Life, R’ Pesach Eliyahu Falk, Vol. 1, page 16)
Ladies, our choice of clothing and our general appearance and behaviors reveal how well we realize our full potential. Do you honor Hashem and His Holy Torah with your style and manner of dress and conduct? Does your manner of dress bear witness to the fact that you have consecrated your life to the service of Hashem?
“Just as the priestly garments of the Kohen are described by the Torah as “magnificent” (Sh’mot 28:2) for they demonstrate that the Kohen is engaged in a holy and distinguished service, so too, the garments of the true Bat Yisrael demonstrate that her days are filled with true values.” (ibid, Page 17)
I am saddened and frankly appalled by the way I see women dress, often even in religious settings, but even more so when I see how they dress their young daughters. In a day of sexual perversion gone rampant, why in the world would you want to advertise to the world and ask for attention from the throngs of crazy perverts roaming the streets? It is not enough that necklines are too low and skirts are too high, and everything is way too tight, leaving nothing to the imagination, now we have a generation that likes clothes with holes everywhere, showing even the little bit of skin that was once covered somewhat!!!???
I recently went to a children’s clothing store to buy a birthday gift for a young girl who loves Unicorns. I found a really cute shirt with a glittery unicorn on it, but when I picked it up I realized the shoulders had been intentionally cut out. What in the world is that? Are we trying to make our kids appear sexy? Why would someone put their children in such garments? This is a very sensitive subject for me, and you can call me old fashioned or whatever you want to, but I do not want any child to ever have to go through the hell of being sexually abused!! So, for heaven’s sake mothers, please protect your children at all costs from drawing attention to themselves (and Chazveshalom, triggering a sadistic criminal plan in some man’s mind). Teach modesty to your daughters at a young age.
“Due to the great importance that must be attached to the protection of women and girls, the yetzer hara aims at misrepresenting the requirements of tzniut and kedushat Yisrael. His assault has become particularly potent in our own times as the galut moves towards it close and the much-awaited era of Mosiach comes ever near. Just as a flame flares up just before it goes out, so too, the tumah of arayot flares up just prior to the coming of Moshiach when the tumah of arayot will finally be wiped off the face of the earth” (ibid, Pages 18-19)
Is your manner of dress inadequate, ostentatious (too flashy, flamboyant or loud), or maybe too casual and, well, just plain improper? It’s time to cover up ladies!
It is sad that the Royals in England have a greater sense of the modesty befitting royalty than does the Guf HaMoshiach! Yes, they might live in a palace here on earth, but their monarchy is not eternal. How much more so should the daughters of the Eternal King be dressed in a dignified, modest manner?
“Tzniut is a positive way of dress and a distinctly refined manner of conduct” (ibid, page 24)
Today too many women are lacking a sense of decency and shame. Due to our relentless exposure to corruption, sadly we often do not even understand our dress &/or behavior is improper. Tzniut is not just about how we dress, it is an attitude that should permeate every aspect of our life, including our character and behavior. It is a sanctification of our entire life. A good place to start is by examining your wardrobe.
“…..people are influenced by their actions. Always, whatever deed a person does, his thought and emotions are drawn into it, whether the deed is good or bad. If a nasty, malicious person learns Torah studiously and does mitzvot on a steady basis, his personality will improve, even if initially his learning and good deeds are not performed for the sake of Heaven. In the same way, if a great tzaddik is forced to regularly do evil, he will abandon his honorable ways and will become totally wicked. Due to this principle of human behavior, Hashem gave us a vast Torah containing a great number of mitzot. He want us to be constantly involved in Torah and mitzvot, so that our hearts and thoughts are always occupied in acts of virtue. Performance of mitzvot will influence us to steadily become better people and earn for ourselves eternal life in the World to Come.” (Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 16)
Dressing and behaving in a proper way has the effect of developing within us a greater and deeper feeling for all that “Yiddishkeit” stands for.
“If a person sanctifies himself in a moderate measure he is assisted from Heaven to attain a much richer and more profound measure of sanctification.” (Yoma 39b)
With that said, I realize we are all at different places on our walk, and that is perfectly ok. There are many halachot associated with tzniut, and the place to begin is wherever you are. You don’t need a list of do this and don’t do that, you need to sincerely desire to please Hashem and He will guide you to the next step, and then to the one after that. We all start somewhere.
“Encouragement should be targeted at those who are already on the right path” (Makos 23a)
If you are taking the time to read this, I assume you are already on the “right” path. Meaning, you already have a desire to please Hashem and live a lifestyle that pleases Him and brings glory to His Name. I recently heard a rabbi discussing tzniut, and he said that it was one of the most important mitzvot for a woman, and that, in fact, what a woman accomplishes with tzniut, it takes a man the better part of 613 mitzvot to accomplish. It is also said that all blessings come to a household only through the women that reside within. We can actually hasten the coming of Moshiach and become a mishkan for Hashem to dwell in ladies. And we can bless our entire households in the act. We can acquire all the spiritual garments with the single act of tzniut.
You decide: how do you want to present yourself? If you draw negative attention to yourself through your manner of dress, the negative klipot (energy) can and will grasp hold of you and damage you. In a generation that unashamedly exposes their private parts, is it any surprise that breast, uterine and prostate cancers are so prevalent?
When we sin, we stain our garments. I recently heard Gehinnom described as Heaven’s washing machine. One way or another ladies, our garments will be cleansed. Best case scenario is to do our best not to stain our garments in the first place. The act of tzniut is a tremendous place to begin!
Our sages teach that the garments served as atonement, each article of clothing atoning for a particular sin. This is the reason why the section of the garments is placed next to the section on the korbanot.
“In our culture, most clothing is designed to promote sin, yet these garments were intended to purge the nations from sin.” (Parsha in Pink, Rebbetzin Mindy Bodner-Lankry)
“As women our clothing is an expression of who we are, a peek into our essence……when we dress beautifully yet modestly, we are like the Kohanim, whose garments display the holiness and splendor of Hashem that is within.” (ibid)
Ladies, I pray we have the good sense to dress for “glory and splendor”. Please ask yourself if you would be embarrassed to stand before Hashem in the outfit you’re wearing. Is your clothing befitting the daughter of the King of Kings?
You don’t have to look ugly, just modest. Good taste and modesty never go out of style!
Be modest so you may be blessed and be a blessing,