Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Tetzave
To dedicate this lesson

Are You Clothes-Minded?


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Most of our Sedra deals with the clothes worn by the Kohanim who serviced the Mishkan & later the Bet HaMikdash. We have often noted here how society, in particular religious society, all too frequently places too much emphasis on externals – including, or especially clothes - rather than focusing on the internal, unseen side of Man: our honesty, compassion, empathy, etc.

When we judge – or better, misjudge – others by the color of their kipa, the length of their coat, the type of shirt they wear, etc, we literally lose sight of who is standing in front of us. Because it is actually what we cannot see that really matters most to Hashem.

And yet the Torah certainly does spend a great deal of time talking about clothes, particularly here in Tetzave. So let’s suggest an approach that helps us to better understand why.

Chazal ask, "What is most important ‘one-liner’ in the Torah;" the one most crucial maxim a person should live by?

Three answers are given: Rabbi Akiva says, "Love your friend as you do yourself." Rav Shimon ben Pazi says: "You shall offer one sheep in the morning, and a second sheep in the afternoon." And Ben Azzai says: "This is the book of the generations of Man; on the day that Hashem created Man, He made him in His likeness."

Rav Yochanan Zweig explains the deeper message here: A person needs to develop 3 basic relationships during his lifetime. One is between himself & others, as stated by Rabbi Akiva. Another is that between himself & his creator, as indicated by Rav Shimon, who stresses the need to "offer" oneself to G-d, in practice or in prayer. The third component is the relationship we develop with ourselves, the sense of self-esteem that Ben Azzai points out, reminding ourselves that we are prize creations of Hashem, filled with an amazing potential for greatness.

I suggest that it all starts with this third imperative, comings to grips with our own intrinsic value. If we respect ourselves, then we can also respect others, & we can also approach G-d with confidence & true devotion. When I sense my own holiness, I behave perforce in a G-dly fashion.

Which brings us back to the subject of fashion. The real purpose of clothes is not to impress others, but to impress & remind ourselves who we are: Modest, discreet, faithful, Mitzva-observing soldiers in the service of the Almighty. Our Jewish uniform serves primarily to define us TO US.

And that is a kind of "clothes-mindedness" that truly "suits" us.
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