Written by Tamar Fox. Check out last week’s post in this series, Double Mitzvah – Terumah.
The Clothes Make the (Wo)Man
In this week’s parsha we read the elaborate description of Aaron’s clothing, to be worn when he enters the Ohel Moed (the Tabernacle). The intricacies of his outfit are described in loving detail, with their golden bells, rich colors, and lavish gemstones.
Today, many people associate Judaism with restrictive clothing: black and white suits for men, and dark, loose skirts and dresses for women. There are endless battles in ultra-Orthodox communities for who can be most modest – particularly among the women.
It is fascinating to read this week’s parsha with its lavish costume, and to contrast it to the emphasis on modest clothing that is so central to Orthodox Jewish life today. Why was Aaron required to dress in such opulent robes and garments? Why wasn’t he sent before God in a simple linen robe? After all, is God really going to be impressed by gems and fancy fabrics?
Partially, the clothing was embellished because of the concept of hiddur mitzvah, or beautifying the commandment. By dressing up the priestly family in sumptuous clothing, the Israelites were signifying how much they valued and loved their relationship with God. It was a way of enthusiastically fulfilling God’s requests.
But one also must imagine that the process of getting dressed in such finery had an effect on Aaron and his family. Just like some of us have clothing that we like not because it is especially sexy, but because it makes us feel good or excited, the fancy clothing that Aaron wore signaled the elevated state he would be entering. And that elevated state was holy.
So much of what’s written in the Jewish world about clothing is about dressing to prevent people from feeling excitement and enthusiasm about another person. With this week’s parsha, we read a Biblical reminder of the idea that dressing up and putting on something that makes you feel fancy — whatever that means to you — is one way we can bring God into our lives. Dressing to make yourself feel good, to make yourself feel elevated — it’s a tough job. And for some it will involve showing less skin. But for others of us, it means wearing something that may be a bit more revealing, but also makes us feel aware, alert, and connected to the world, in the way that Aaron models this week.