You Are What You Wear
This week’s Torah portion, Parshas Tetzaveh, goes to great lengths detailing all the aspects of the priestly garments. It seems quite puzzling that the Torah would spend so much time on the clothes of the priests and High Priest. I mean, why do we wear clothing? To cover up parts of our bodies we’d rather people don’t see and to keep us warm in the winter. In the summer, you only need a shirt if you want to go to Dunkin’ Donuts. So what’s the big deal with all these clothes?
If we look in Chapter 28, verse 2, the Torah provides the answer. “And you shall make holy garments for Aharon your brother for honor and glory.” But what does it mean that the clothing was for “honor and glory”?
If you’ve ever seen a military parade, you know that all the soldiers are dressed just so, in their crisp uniforms with gleaming black boots. Now imagine that one soldier decided, “You know, it’s very hot and I don’t want to wear boots.” Instead, he wears black sneakers. He’ll probably be peeling potatoes for the rest of his life. What’s the big deal?
The reason is that clothes make a person. People dress the way they do to define who they are. A soldier who won’t wear his boots isn’t a soldier.
So the answer is no, clothing is not just to cover us and keep us warm. It’s to bring us respect. That’s why the High Priest wears such elaborate clothing. Because the position of the High Priest is one of honor and glory, to be the one to serve the Lord on the most elevated level possible. And their clothes have to match their position, to bring them honor and glory.
People sometimes complain that the laws of modest dress are so restrictive and oppressive. Look at how the royal family is dressed in the accompanying photo. This is the epitome of respectable. Even those members of the royal family not known for their appropriate dress at all times know how to dress when the occasion calls for it. At the coronation of a monarch or the showing of the Crown Jewels, every royal family member is dressed in a way suited for “honor and glory” (and let’s just say tank tops and skinny jeans are nowhere in evidence.)
When the Jewish nation approached Mt. Sinai before the giving of the Torah, G-d told Moses (Yisro 19:6), “And you shall be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” We are royalty. The laws of modesty are not meant to be restrictive, but rather to reflect our status as a holy nation.
Shmuel Dovid Kirwan