Parshat Tetzaveh: You are What You Wear?

Parshat Teztaveh describes at length the clothing worn by the kohanim. Their garments are called “bigdei kodesh,” holy clothing, worn for “kavod” (honor) and “tifaret” (glory). Why so much emphasis on clothing – a seemingly materialistic thing – worn by the holiest person in Israel? 

The midrash explains that the eight different articles of the high priest’s clothing atoned for the sins of Israel, like the korbanot (sacrifices). The elaborate dress was meant to remind the kohanim of their role as representing all of Israel and help enhance their service of God. Perhaps related to this, Rambam states that one should wear clothing which is neat and presentable during prayer. Conversely, nakedness in Torah represents a spiritual lacking. In Bereshit, Rashi understands Adam and Eve’s realization of their nakedness (after their sin) as meaning they had no mitzvot to be covered with. Nakedness represents vulnerability and a deficiency of mitzvot/goodness. 

Clothing also plays a key role in Megillat Esther. After Haman’s decree, Mordechai goes through the city with kriya, torn clothes. The external tear is representative of his internal grief and suffering. Moreover, Before Esther approaches King Achashverosh in hope of saving the Jewish people, the megilla states: “And it came to pass on the third day Esther wore (malchut) queenliness.” The Talmud asks why the megillah states that she wore “queenliness” and not queenly robes? To teach that she actually wore ruach hakodesh, the holy spirit. Here too, clothing reflects something deeper and more spiritual, as Esther stepped into her destiny and identity as queen and savior.  

These sources highlight the deep connection between outer clothing and one’s inner spiritual state. On Purim too, costumes are meant to enhance the feeling of joy associated with the holiday. After a week filled with too much grief in Israel, may this Purim help us move from darkness to light, from sorrow to joy, inside and out. Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach! – Karen Miller Jackson

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