“The clothes make the man.”
Since we find ourselves this week on a parsha all about clothing, it is worth our while to consider for a bit the role of clothing in our life, and some Torah ideas about them, especially since Hashem decided to designate so many verses in His precious Torah about them.
Besides the multitudinous types of clothing in the world and in the parsha, the holy tongue has numerous words for the general category of ‘clothing’. As we have discussed before, this conveys to us that there are thus numerous distinct roles of and functions of clothing in the world. To mention a few: ‘BeGeD’ (frequent in our parsha), Csus (as written in a Kesuvah), Lovush, as well as various terms which are synomymous with honour- (especially in Aramaic, like the sage Rabbi Yochanan who called his clothes his glory). The term BeGeD, also means treachery. We can all understand how clothing can be used to mask and disguise – such as with Yakov and Esav (my parents favourite (yet not so appreciated) story). The letters come in sequential order – 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in the AlephBeis, but they are severed from their origin, the Aleph. In other words, they look proper and fitting, but they mislead what lies behind, the virtuous Aleph which represents Hashem who is One, and the goodly neshama of the person. Originally the body could express its being made in the image of the Creator, but after man sinned, he became degraded, thus we must betray (BeGeD) our most root essence by covering ourselves as if we were not so holy.
The gemarra interprets the word LeBush as a conjunction of the words Lo Bosh, meaning ‘no shame’. In other words this aspect of clothing is to cover the shame of nakedness, as Hashem did for Adam and Eve after they sinned, and suddenly they found their once wholly ethereal selves corporealized into a crude animalistic body (the root of the word flesh is also BOSh). (Their covering “OHR” was once spelled with an Aleph, instead of an Ayin – meaning light, in place of skin.) Our neshamos are divine, but our bodies resemble the other terrestrial forms, and thus our outsides belie our holy essence. Shame is the feeling we have when we let our base self express itself over our higher self. (I believe the Yiddish term is Pas Nisht) The more one exposes their skin and outside self, the more they supplant their inner self, and blind others to the greatness that lies behind their overwhelmingly distracting display. (The face is unique, for it does express one’s personality and divinity – thus the word for ‘inside’ and ‘face’ are the same in Hebrew ‘Panim’.)
The same rule resonates throughout all interplays between the body and the soul. For example, a child will not appreciate the internal, lasting value of the food his parents want to give him, so long as he is blinded by the overwhelming sweetness of the competing sugar frosted food. Similarly, even when we are trying to listen to an important talk, or being moved by an intimate eulogy, when a dish of our favorite food is wafting before us (or for others a nice-looking lady), we will find our inner selves struggling with our bodies to pay full attention. The more one identifies themselves spiritually and intellectually as opposed to physically and ephemerally, the more they will allow that side of them to dominate both privately and publicly. A natural sign of maturity is when a child begins to independently carry themselves with modesty in regards to their bodies and its functions.
Our Parsha uses the term Levush in regards to the pants of the Cohens, for their role was merely to cover their nakedness. The rest of their clothing are written separately, for they served a separate function, namely of glory and splendor. This aspect of clothing is where it is utilized to demonstrate honour, such as to royalty (including brides and grooms) and leadership. The Cohen Gadol (High Priest) was distinguished from the other by wearing 8 garments instead of four, all of which lent importance and regalness to the refined side of his being. We can also dress up to honor others, as when one has an audience with parents or other royalty, or when we greet the Sabbath Queen, there is a halacha to have special clothes to honour it/her. The pinnacle of grandeur is always a crown, for as we said, clothing is to mask, cover, or accentuate and glorify, and thus the main glory of man is his intellect, which deserves to be crowned. It was not long ago that a self respecting gentleman would be particular to have a hat on his head when going into the world.
So it seems that clothes are not just a happenstance of life, but rather tools designed with the rest of creation to be used, for better or worse in our personal and social development. According to most commentators, this parsha, like Trumah comes in the wake of the Golden Calf. Like Trumah which came as an atonement and correction for the sin and its consequences, via the building of the Mishkan, the parsha Tetzaveh compliments this ends, only not by bringing Heaven back down to Earth in a perfect tabernacle, but by bringing us back up from our fallen heights by covering our shame, and revealing our greatness with proper instruction about clothes and garments.
Have an honorably attired Shabbos (and week)