Torah Reading for Week of March 4-10, 2018
“The Clothes Make the Man: Vestis virum reddit – Quintilianus”
By Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, PhD, BCC, ’07
The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.
When I was really little, one thing I remember with glee about Rosh HaShanah was that I got new underpants— the ones with the ruffles that showed underneath my dress. They were high holy day clothes…. along with my Mary Jane shoes and my socks with the ruffles. My mother wore her mink stole, even when it was Indian Summer in Boston. High Holy Days meant new clothes, beautiful clothes, once a year; clothes that let you know that “This was a Holy Day!” No one wore their “best jeans” or their “hip boots”!
When I go to synagogue now, to a Bat Mitzvah, I often cringe at the outfits bedecking our gorgeous 12 or 13 year olds as they stand on the bimah. The girls invariably are either pulling up the bodice of their dress or pulling down its skirt. While they choose clothes that seem “in style”, their behavior wearing them suggests that either they are inappropriate for the bimah or they are inappropriate for the girl wearing them. They are not “modest” and the girl is not comfortable wearing a revealing outfit.
In our portion this week, Vayakhel — Pekudei, we repeat the description of the holy vestments that the priest will wear and the special clothes for the High Holy Days for the Cohein HaGadol, the High Priest. When I went to the exhibit at the LA Cathedral years ago displaying the Pope’s wardrobe and the robes of the cardinals, I was struck with how beautiful they were, and how they matched or corresponded to the description of the clothes of the priests in the Torah.
Yet, when we go to synagogue today, we rarely honor Shabbat or Yom Tov by wearing our best. We don’t buy new clothes for the High Holy Days. We don’t preserve our clothing for special holy occasions. We will go “all out” for a Purim costume for our kids, but what about a Shabbat outfit?
I grew up in a household with a father who was a sportswear fashion designer and he paid attention to the pattern of the clothes and their fit as well as their material. He modeled the sample size off of my sister, my sister in law, and myself who all wore the same size, but had very different proportions. His great gift was being able to “grade” a pattern, so when it went from a size 2 to a size 20, the proportions were accurate. He made me aware that clothes created an image, yet needed to be comfortable enough for a person to hold that image; so that it was the person you saw and not the clothes. Indeed, the clothes made the “woman”, but the woman made the “clothes” fit the occasion and her personality. I am often struck how many of the people who wear designer clothes at various award ceremonies look like the clothes are wearing them!
When I read this parshah, I read how God gave meticulous instructions regarding the color, the texture, and the fit of the priestly garments. I wonder at the impact that the priests must have had. These clothes were beautiful to look at and they must have been wonderfully uplifting to wear. When you put on such a garment, you would be transported to another realm of reality!
How could you behave in a way unbefitting to your clothes? At least on Shabbat or Yom Tov! How could you move in these clothes like a lay person? How could you get them dirty? You were constrained by your clothes and by the mindfulness they induced about your station in life, your stature as a moral exemplar, and your visibility as a leader in the community. No one else got to wear those clothes.
I have a dear friend who is in her eighties, and she won’t go to the Temple where the rabbi wears jeans on Shabbat to lead services. She feels he is belittling the role of rabbi. We may disagree with her, but she wants her spiritual leader to look regal, to reflect the majesty of God’s glory, and to represent the leadership that expresses that majesty on earth.
And so, as I shared with her, I always wear my best underwear when I lead services. I say the shehechiyanu prayer when I wear new clothes. I make sure that I don’t have to pull my dresses up or down. AND I have a collection of tallitot that match my clothing, representing my adhering to a dress code that reflects holiness and wholeness on the outside that gives me an opportunity to practice holiness and wholeness on the inside. But I am still looking for a new pair of Mary Janes for Rosh HaShanah….