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The Purple Sheet – Clothes Make the (Wo)Man

                   The Purple Sheet

    Shabbat Parshat Tetzaveh- February 19th/20th ~ י’א אדר א תשע’ו

Clothes Make the (Wo)Man

This week’s Torah portion describes the details of the beautiful and elaborate clothing worn by the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest and other priests. We are told of the materials, colours and vestments that they wore when performing their duties in the Tabernacle and then later on in the Holy Temple.

While we may not go around dressed like the High Priest, we know that clothes have a very powerful effect on both the wearer and how they make us feel, and also on how others view us. A cute example of the latter occurred last week when someone at Aish offered me tickets to the Panthers hockey game taking place Saturday night. I didn’t go but my son Yoni did with his older brother’s friend, Jake who happened to be in town. Because the game started at 7 pm and Shabbat went out about 10 minutes before that, they didn’t bother changing out of their Shabbat suits but went straight to the game after Jake rushed home to get his wallet.

Now you know how people dress at a hockey game? Most are wearing an oversized team jersey, and this being Florida on a Saturday night, there weren’t too many Manhattan type suits in the crowd. Yoni said everywhere he went people were staring at him and wondering if he was someone famous. With his muscular build, his super-slim Zara suit and the facial hair that he has been sporting lately, people probably thought that he was some up-and-coming NHL prospect. I told him afterwards that he should have gone to the Panthers dressing room and told security that his name is Gord McKenzie from Moose Jaw, Alberta and he just wants to pop in to say hi to a couple of his hockey buddies.

We happen to have a bit of style when it comes to clothes in our home thanks to Karen working at Banana Republic for many years. She has sensitized us to many fashion do’s and don’ts and I think our kids are a pretty well-dressed lot thanks to the very generous employee discount from Gap Inc. Because of her I know a thing or two about fashion.

But getting back to the parsha, there is one verse that gives a very good general description that defines how we ought to view our clothes. The Torah says that God instructed Moses to “make holy vestments for Aaron your brother לכבוד ולתפארת for kavod/dignity and for tifaret/beauty.” These two simple descriptions of the Kohen’s garments in a nutshell describe how we should regard clothing in our own lives.

One the one hand they should be for tifaret/beauty and aesthetically pleasing, for ourselves as well as others. But secondly they should also offer kavod – honour, dignity and an air of respect and grace to the wearer.

These two ingredients and aspects of clothing are sometimes a tough balancing act to achieve in our day and age. Too often, different societies seem to focus and emphasize one and ignore the other. This week is fashion week in New York and that, combined with the red carpet appearance of the rich and famous at the Grammys, give us a window into the latest and greatest in the fashion world. It seems that the fashionistas often get the tifaret/beauty part down quite well, but are sorely lacking when it comes to the modesty and dignity part. Every year the boundaries get pushed a little further and there seems to be less and less difference between what passes for clothing on the beach versus at an award show.

At the other end of spectrum is Disney World where we visited a month ago. Now that is a scary place in terms of fashion. It seems almost as if people go out of their way not to care what they look like. I understand dressing for comfort when you are walking about all day long, but seriously, we have rags in our laundry room that are in better shape than the shorts and t-shirts being worn at Epcot. Go to Disney World and you will not see muchKavod/Dignity let alone Tifaret in the line at “It’s a Small World”. It is basically a fashion disaster in all four parks. (And don’t get me started about the Turkey Leg Eaters – that is a whole other essay.)

And then you have parts of the very religious Jewish world which seems to focus exclusively on the modesty and dignity aspects but totally lose sight of the tifaret/beauty bits. Not just for the men whose closets consist of black suits and white shirts but even the women who styles and colours exude dour and boring. Nope, don’t visit Kiryas Yoel or Ramat Beit Shemesh if you are looking for ideas on sharp dressing.

I understand that, other than clothing, there are a lot of other important factors that make a person good, moral and upstanding. But ever since Adam and Eve went back for seconds in the Garden of Eden, clothes have been a crucial part of how we view ourselves and how the world views us. Dignity and Beauty – these should be the two overriding things we need to keep in mind when we are out clothes shopping. And btw, Banana Republic does an excellent job providing both.

Clean shirt, new shoes

And I don’t know where I am goin’ to.

Silk suit, black tie,

I don’t need a reason why

-ZZ Top


Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale
Aish South Florida

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