Getting Undressed

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. The views reflected in his columns represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated. For more Double Mitzvahs by Sender Rozesz, check out A Woman’s Vow, Sexual Motive, Choose Your Own Spouse, The Post-Honeymoon Journey, A Wise and Understanding People, The Blessing of Fertility, Abominations, Coitus Interruptus, Sexual Struggles,The Unspeakable Language of Passion, Cut vs. Uncut, The Silence of Bitterness, Sex and the Holiest Day of the Year, Shifting Beds and Sex in the Sukkah,Sex…In the Beginning, A Sexual Reboot, She’s My Beautiful Sister,Kosher Incest?, How They Met, Male-Female Intercourse, The First Kiss, The Power to Transform, Onanism, Daughters-in-Law and Moshiach, Issues with the In-Laws?, The Undoing of Captivity, Shift Beds – Part II, Pharaoh’s Assimilation Policy, Passion vs. Pleasure, Loving in Reverse, Music is Female, Fecund Fluids and Revelation, Sexism in the Commandments, Divine Lust, Name Calling, Mismatched Lovers, Sex and Mirrors, and The Challenge of Real Loving.

Rated PG-13

We use garments for all sorts of occasions. We have formal dress garments, the ones that we might wear to synagogue, to a wedding, to a funeral (G-d forbid). We have certain clothing that we wear when we relax, and certain clothes that we wear when we party. We have lingerie and sexy underwear that we wear during more intimate moments, and we have special clothing that we wear for sports activities. We virtually have a different type of garment for each genre of our lives.

As a guy, this variety of outfits is pretty much limited to actual clothes. I have shoes for only three general areas: dress shoes, running shoes, and slippers. From my wife I have learned that, for some women, one needs almost as many different pairs of shoes as there are occasions to wear them.

Generally speaking, the Torah doesn’t have much to say about the Jewish wardrobe, other than:

1. a prohibition on cross-dressing (“A man’s attire shall not be on a woman, nor may a man wear a woman’s garment”) in Deuteronomy, 22:5;
2. a prohibition on wearing Shatnez (“You shall not wear a mixture of wool and linen together”) in Deuteronomy, 22:11; and
3. the commandment for men to wear Tzitzit (“You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself”) in Deuteronomy, 22:12.

We’ll discuss these prohibitions another time, but the Torah really doesn’t address Jewish garb beyond that. At least not the Five Books of Moses.

Except when it comes to the priesthood. The Torah is very particular regarding the garments worn by the priests and the High Priest. And there are some important lessons that we can learn from those rules.

And he placed the tunic upon him [Aaron], girded him with the sash, clothed him with the robe, placed the ephod upon him, girded him with the band of the ephod, and adorned him with it. And he placed the choshen upon him, and he inserted into the choshen the Urim and the Tumim. And he placed the cap on his [Aaron’s] head, and he placed on the cap, towards his face, the golden showplate, the holy crown…And Moses brought Aaron’s sons forward and clothed them with tunics, girded them with sashes, and bound them up with high hats. Leviticus, 8:7-9, 13.

One of the immediate sexy connections to be made here is the omitted reference to one of the garments that the regular priests had in common with the High Priest – the linen underwear. G-d had specifically commanded that for both the regular priests and the High Priest there be made “linen pants to cover the flesh of [their] nakedness; they shall reach from the waist down to the thighs.” Exodus, 28:42. In this week’s Parshah, it briefly references the “linen trousers on his flesh,” and the Talmud makes sure to point out that nothing must interpose between the underwear and his flesh. Leviticus, 6:3, Rashi.

If you ever thought it was cool that the Christians got to have someone who atoned for them, you’ll love this one: the Midrash states that there is a double meaning behind the words “to cover the flesh of [their] nakedness.” Particularly as (1) the word “their” does not actually appear in the verse, and is simply implied from the context; and (2) the word used for “nakedness” is “Erva,” which is the same word used for a forbidden sexual relationship. Thus, the Midrash concludes that, as each garment worn by the priests and the High Priest was intended to atone from a different genre of sin, the male priests’ underwear was intended to “cover” (i.e. to atone) for sins involving the flesh of forbidden sexual relationships.

So whenever they donned this linen underwear, they were spiritually covering for our sexual indiscretions. Neat, huh?

But there is another garment-related message in this week’s Parshah. The Torah tells us that, after sacrificing the daily burnt offering, the priest was to “don his linen tunic, and he shall don his linen trousers on his flesh. And he shall lift out the ashes into which the fire has consumed the burnt offering upon the altar, and put them down next to the altar. He shall then take off his garments and put on other garments, and he shall take out the ashes to a clean place outside the camp.”

The Talmud says that the priest’s clothing change is analogous to a servant, as the clothes worn by a servant while cooking a pot of food for his master, should not be worn when he mixes a glass of wine for his master. Yoma, 23b. So too, the priest should not be serving inside the Temple in the same clothing that he wore to take the ashes outside the camp.

In other words, with the priest’s clothing the Torah teaches that our every act is meaningful, and may deserve its own set of clothing. There are the “outside the camp” deeds, and there are the “in the Temple” deeds. And we need to dress appropriately for the particular situation with which we are faced. This is as much for ourselves as it is respect for G-d, or even for those people in whose honor we are dressing.

Because we do tend to act our clothing, don’t we? We behave differently in formal clothing than in relaxed clothing. Put on a t-shirt and shorts and I’m likely to do or say things that I would never think of doing or saying in a suit and tie. Different situations call for different clothing, yes; but they also call for different expressions of myself, and therefore a change of clothes.

This is particularly true if we view clothing as a figurative reference to the garments of our soul, which Kabbalah explains are our faculties of thought, speech and action.

We do and say a lot of things throughout our day. And our mind never stops thinking. Every thought, every word, every act, clothes our soul with the content and the inspiration behind that thought, word and action. Some of those garments are likely to be more chilled. Others more meaningful and intense. Sometimes, our garments can be downright dirty. But it’s good to remember that all of our garments have their time and place, and that it is sometimes important to remove the dirty garments, and to don fresh and clean ones out of respect for those around us, and even more importantly, out of respect for ourselves.