Does Clothing "Make the Man"?   

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week's parsha, Tetzaveh, continues to describe the construction of the Mishkan.  A great deal of attention is directed at the materials and design of the priestly garments.  The Kohen was not permitted to serve in the Temple in ordinary clothing, however dignified.  To do so would be a grave sin and invalidate the service.  It is easy to understand why there would have to be a "dress code" for something as serious as the Temple Service.  What requires explanation is the Torah's prescription for the exact materials, measurements and design of the apparel to the exclusion of any element of the Kohen's personal "taste".

There is a lot we can learn from the Torah's insistence on the sanctity of the "bigdei Kehuna" (priestly garments).  For many of us clothing is more than just a functional necessity.  We consider it vitally important to dress "in style" even though our "outdated" apparel is in perfect condition.  In many ways clothing serves as an extension of one's "image."  We all seek to project a certain social persona which reflects how we wish to be perceived by others.  Every day we put on our "masks" when we enter into the public domain.  We do not want to be seen as we truly are.  We invest a lot of money and energy to fashion an appearance we hope will be admired by others.

Our behavior is affected by the clothing we wear.  Certain professions require a specific uniform.  Pilots, doctors, nurses, policemen, etc. must wear their outfit while at work.  Why must it be this way?  A skilled professional can perform his craft no matter what he is wearing.  Nevertheless the uniform plays an important psychological role.  It reminds him of his professional identity and the sacredness of his mission.  While this may not affect his technical skills, it increases the seriousness and dedication with which he approaches his mission.

We can now appreciate the importance of the Bigdei Kehuna.  The verse proclaims: "You shall make garments of holiness...for honor and glory."  Before entering the temple the Kohen had to remove his regular clothing which represents his superficial social image.  His priestly garments, however, reflect the true essence of man, ie. the Divine soul which is fashioned "in His Image."  The uniqueness of man consists in his ability to apprehend the Creator and imitate His ways of truth, justice and compassion.  G-d permits us to perform His Temple Service on the condition that we abandon all forms of vanity and focus exclusively on that which is true and eternal.

There is much we can learn from this teaching.  We should dress appropriately but not be excessively preoccupied with "externals."  We should affirm that human dignity consists in the fact that all people are created in G-d's image.  Let us appreciate the full significance of one of the first blessings we recite upon awakening each morning: "My G-d, the soul You placed within me is pure.  You created and fashioned it and safeguard it within me and will take it from me and restore it to me in the future.  As long as the soul is within me I thank You Hashem my G-d and G-d of my fathers Master of all worlds, L-rd of all souls.  Blessed are You Hashem Who restores the soul to those whose bodies have expired."  May the theme of this blessing be the guiding principle of our temporary sojourn on earth.

Shabbat Shalom