Tetzaveh and the importance of clothes

Moshe Rabbeinu is ordered to light the menorah, to keep it perpetually lit. His brother, Aharon, and his sons and their descendants after them, received the honor of the priesthood. Hashem describes to Moshe the specific uniforms that the priests must wear, then the specific uniform that the High Priest, the cohen gadol, would wear. The Torah sounds like the stereotypical uptight fashion designer here, specifying that a certain garment must be made entirely of blue wool, then detailing decorations on the bottom, down to an alternating pattern of tiny gold bells and tiny pomegranates. I know-adorable.

The Torah then, in describing korbanotsounds like a cooking show host, precisely describing how to sacrifice specific animals and how to make the bread you bring them with.

Aharon and his sons were to be anointed, and the Torah describes every step of each day that the process went on. It was a seven-day purification process.

Finally: the laws of incense. Yes, you read that right. Incense, special spices, also called cetoretwere brought to the altar, located in the holiest hall of all saints and inaccessible to anyone except the cohen gadol at specific times.

This week’s parsha is almost too much specific, from all the details on the outfits to all the details on the contribution korbanot. It’s almost like a celebrity lifestyle blog, chillingly staring at everything the highest echelon of society, the priests, wore and ate. What’s up with that? Why does Hashem want us to know all these sartorial details, and more specifically, what can I learn from them? Perhaps, since we do not know which generation of the Mashiach will come and when the priests will begin to wear these garments and bring these sacrifices, we should be ready to revive the practice at any time, learning the details of the protocols preemptively before they even become relevant.

Perhaps, however, there’s an implication that caring about clothes isn’t as superficial as I generally perceive it to be. When I see someone spending too much time figuring out what to wear or how to accessorize it, I laugh at them in my head. Why spend so much time on shallow, superficial parts of yourself when you can spend that time doing something else? While I think I’m right not to be obsessed with appearances, neither my own nor those of the people I meet, I think there is some nuance to introduce into the conversation. Clothes are important.

We’ve all heard the saying that “clothes make the man” (or, similarly, Shakespeare’s “Clothes often proclaim the man”) or the one that tells us to “dress for the job you you want, not for the job you have”. “These are not Jewish concepts per se, but the general idea around them is that your clothes influence both how you see yourself and how others see you.

It’s not a new idea – I’ve been approached by Jewish strangers before, offering to take me for walks or asking for directions, my long skirt and sleeves showing that I’m also Jewish. Would they have asked for or offered help if they hadn’t guessed my religious identity? May be. But because of my clothes, they didn’t have to guess, my clothes being a determining quality. It’s not great to define others or be defined by your clothes, but it does make life easier in a way. If you’re in a hospital, scrubs or lack thereof signifies a stranger’s ability to help you or if it’s just another patient. In a retail store, employee uniforms show that they are the ones asking for help.

When you dress, you represent yourself, and if you present yourself as a Jew, whether in tznius clothing or a yarmulke or a magen David necklace, you also represent the Jewish nation as a whole. This is why the way you present yourself, dress-wise, is so important. If you want to portray yourself in a positive light, dress to match. The pride trait can be put to good use when it prevents you from wearing dirty or torn clothes, says Orchos Tzaddikim, writing anonymously.

Be proud of yourself then. Be proud of how you present yourself and be specific about what you wear.

Rachel Gilinsky

Rachel Gilinski is an undergraduate student at Yeshiva University. She likes rugelach, Legally Blonde, buying books she’ll probably never read, and sadly lashon hara.

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