The True Garments We Wear #568

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 12:39pm -- Rabbi Huberman

I recently received a call from a friend letting me know what one of the greatest baseball games ever pitched was being re-broadcast on ESPN.

Moments later, my eyes were fixed on an historic event which occurred on October 8, 1956. On that day, journeyman pitcher Don Larsen, 27, pitched what would become the first and, to this date, only perfect World Series game.

There they were in their glory-fifteen future Hall of Famers, among them Mickey Mantle, Duke Snyder, Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra-rattling round the bases in their baggy flannel uniforms.

As I kicked back in my chair watching those ill-fitting old uniforms, I couldn't help but think, Those were the days. In 1956, baseball was about the game, before logos and decals splashed across jerseys. Before professional sports turned into a tournament of egos.

As Jackie Robinson stepped to the plate leading off the eighth inning-days before he ultimately retired from baseball-the camera panned across Yankee Stadium.

There was not a single tank top, t-shirt or pair of shorts in the crowd of more than sixty four thousand. All I could see were suits and top hats.

So neat, stylish, respectable. And then I thought, When did the way in which we present ourselves in public stop mattering?

Did we lose something important during the '60s and '70s, when it became more important to focus on personal expression than on the dignity of a given event?

This week, reading what some consider the most boring Parashah in the Torah got me thinking about that game again, and of uniforms - both then and now.

Tetzaveh sees God further instructing the Israelites how its priests, the Kohanim, should be dressed as they cared for the Ten Commandments and the Tabernacle.

With two exceptions, the Torah tends not to concern itself about what people wore, or what they ought to wear. The first exception is the story of Joseph's multicolored coat; the second is in Tetzaveh.

Call it the Torah's Fashion Week.

In this Parashah, the Torah goes into painstaking detail regarding clothing. We read about full length tunics, linen underwear, jeweled breastplates, special turbans, long and elaborate sashes.

Fabrics were purple and turquoise, trimmed with gold threads. Detail after detail-as if the Torah is teaching us that, while we should never be obsessed with appearance, there are

times when we need to care about it.

The great Italian fashion designer Mario Prada once said, What you wear is how you present yourself to the world. Fashion is instant language.

So what was the language of the priestly garments?

 

In a word, dignity.

The priests, from the line of Moses's brother Aaron, needed to present themselves at a higher moral level than the rest of the community. Their garments did not have pockets: an outward guarantee that no taxes were being skimmed off the top.

Priests were dressed in the most colorful and honored garments, for these conveyed the dignity of their positions.

It's interesting, though, that at the end of the day, the Kohanim-whose office was imbued with dignity-were commanded to wear their street clothes as they cleaned up the mess from a day of animal sacrifices.

The Kabbalists expand upon the idea of clothing. They note that, every day, we surround ourselves with not only physical garments, but spiritual ones as well. They describe three types of inner clothing.

Thought is the innermost garment. When we rise each day, we can control-to a great extent-how others react to us. Do we dress ourselves in the dynamic colors of optimism and openness, or do we present ourselves within the greys of pessimism and isolation?

This is the reason, I believe, that most religions and meditative practices encourage prayer and self-focus first thing in the morning.

The second type of clothing is speech. What are the first words out of our mouths each morning? Often it's Good morning! Far too often, it's Oy!

Finally, there's the garment of action. Many these days are inclined to declare, I can't control my world. It's the government. It's society. It's my situation.

But our Sages taught that habits and inner garments can be altered. Psychologists remind us that brain wiring can be adapted, in part by revisiting our current patterns of thought, speech, and action.

The clothing designer Ralph Lauren once said, I don't sell clothes, I design dreams.

Not everyone can afford a Ralph Lauren dress or a Giorgio Armani suit. That's not the point, and the cost and exclusivity of what we wear couldn't matter less. But what we project, both from the inside and out, can publicly and privately affect the quality of our lives and how others react to us.

The priests in this week's Parashah teach us that, at least, sometimes clothing matters. It's an issue of balance.

In 1964, my father took me on a trip to New York. It was one of the most wonderful excursions of my life.

But I remember, at age 11, being both embarrassed and infuriated that, through most of our trip, my father made me wear a grey suit and fedora adorned with a green feather.

As I reflect upon it now, though, I remember the museums and restaurants we visited and the people we observed. I remember so well, in part at least, because my clothing respected the amazing city I was visiting.

We should never obsess about clothing, but neither should we forget that our garments-inner and outer-project our attitudes and our intentions towards other people, our environments, and the task at hand.

The Torah pauses this week to remind us that we each possess a variety of garments and veils. Some are there for the world to see; others are unknown to any but ourselves. Some reflect what is within, others merely cover us.

But within each of us, there exists a central garment: that thread which defines each of us. It is the spark of life planted within us by God, which provides us with the capacity to improve and enhance our lives.

Amidst the elaborate detail of this week's Torah portion, perhaps we need to ask ourselves at this moment: What garments am I wearing right now?

Can I, in the next few moments, through my next thought, words, or action, make them more glorious?

Indeed, this week's Torah portion inspires us to consider what garments we're wearing, and ask ourselves, are they truly connected with our dreams.

 

Shabbat shalom, vkol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman