Material Garments for the Body, Spiritual Garments for the Soul
In this week’s parsha, we find that Hashem commanded Moses to prepare the priestly garments for Aaron and his sons the priests. The High Priest wore eight priestly garments, whereas an ordinary priest wore four.
We may all learn a moral lesson by examining the nature of these garments. We may also learn proper conduct, which consists of knowing how to dress, because the clothes make the man. To our great regret and shame, our generation has witnessed a vicious plague spreading in the streets, one that has even infiltrated our surroundings. This plague is commonly called “fashion,” meaning that men and women are not ashamed of wearing clothes that only a generation ago they would have been too embarrassed to wear, even inside their homes. These relate to pants, shoes, and skirts or wigs for women.
Our holy Patriarchs and Matriarchs were especially careful to wear clothes that were modest and discreet, not ones with loud colors or which barely covered the body. Their clothes proved to the naked eye that the wearer was among the blessed progeny of G-d, the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is not without reason that our Sages said, “The Children of Israel were delivered from Egypt because they did not change their style of dress.” Today, however, everyone does what he wants, and each person has his own particular way of dressing. What’s more is that each person thinks that the more outrageous his clothing is, the better things will go for him. Each person believes that the more he integrates into society, the greater his status will be wherever he finds himself.
In contrast, let us examine the garments worn by the High Priest. Over his heart he wore the breastplate. On his back he wore the ephod. On his forehead he wore the gold tziz (headplate), a mark of consecration. On his head he wore a miter, and over his entire body he wore a blue tunic, which was in addition to a mesh-pattern tunic that he wore beneath. His legs were covered by underpants that extended from his hips to his thighs, thereby covering his nakedness, and he was girded by a fabric belt that separated the upper and lower parts of his body.
This teaches us just how much the Torah insists on proper clothing. The High Priest was a symbol and an example for all the Children of Israel. Everyone could see the priest officiating, and what did they notice when he arrived at the Temple? Was he someone for whom fashion was a great concern? Was he a man who put an effort into dressing according to the latest trends? Definitely not. People saw a man whose entire body, from top to bottom, was fully covered, allowing none of his flesh to be seen. They saw a man dressed with extreme modesty, which is why they certainly learned a lesson from him and dressed appropriately.
Today, however, to our great regret there are many men and women who are insensitive to moral values. Modesty does not interest them, and therefore they are also incapable of demonstrating shame. What is the reason for this? If their material garments are not appropriate, it follows that their spiritual garments are definitely not worthy of such a name, and therefore the Shechinah flees from them.
When we fail to pay attention to our material garments, we naturally do not pay attention to our spiritual garments either. In fact it is completely impossible to come closer to the King of the universe while wearing clothes that draw strange looks. Inappropriate material clothing leads a person to consider and even think that “the house of Israel is like all the other peoples,” like all the other nations of the world. How can he then study Torah, pray, perform mitzvot, and so on?
We find this principle at work during Purim, for one of the customs of Purim is to dress up in a disguise. Wherever Jews are found, they dress up on Purim in accordance with the words of the Megillah: “The Jews had gladness and joy, a feast and a holiday” (Esther 8:17). It is not only Jews who disguise themselves, for among the other peoples – even those who have no connection to the Torah and mitzvot – the custom of dressing up in a disguise at this time has spread. In reflecting upon this, however, we see that Jewish costumes in no way resemble the costumes of non-Jews. On Purim, Jews (especially the pious) dress up as tzaddikim, saintly figures from the Bible, or other such figures. Yet how do the people of the other nations disguise themselves? We cannot describe their costumes in words, for they disguise themselves as the worst possible things. What is the reason behind this?
A Jew should certainly realize that material garments for the body are really spiritual garments for the soul. If the material clothing of a person’s body is holy and modest, according to the norms of Jewish law, he also clothes his soul with a spiritual garment. This is the clothing that he will wear in the future, at the end of days, before the supreme King. However if a person wears inappropriate material clothing, how will his soul be able to wear their spiritual equivalent? What will he do in the future? He will truly stand naked!
This is why anyone who reflects a little and is G-d-fearing must draw a lesson from the priestly garments, as well as from the custom of dressing up on Purim. We must understand that it is only when a person wears proper material garments – clothing prescribed by the Torah and in accordance with G-d’s will – that the spiritual garments of his soul will also be fitting. Such a person will merit all good things from Hashem.