Clothes Make The Man
The garments of the kohanim – the priests of Israel – occupy a great deal
of space in this week’s parsha. These garments were meant to bring “honor
and glory” to those who donned them. But they were also meant to
bring “honor and glory” to all of Israel. For when our religious leaders
are objects of honor we, their followers and public supporters also share
and bask in that glory.
The garments of the kohanim represent their sense of devotion and service
to the God and people of Israel. This sense of devotion and holiness was
supposed to cover the kohein at all times and to become part of his
personality and worldview.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that this was the message of the
rabbis that stated that nothing was to be between the actual body of the
kohein and the clothing that he wore. The garments of “honor and glory”
were to become the very being, the skin if you will, of the kohein
himself. Only if he constantly operated on the lofty plane of service and
honor to God and Israel could he meet the challenge of being a kohein.
Clothes may or may not make the man but the sense of honor, duty and
loyalty that the garments of the kohanim represented certainly defined the
sense of greatness that was expected from him. Once having had the
privilege of wearing those holy vestments, the kohein was bound forever to
the concept of “honor and glory” that those garments represented and
Clothing plays a great role in current Jewish society. Certain sectors of
our society identify their closeness to God and tradition in terms of the
clothing that they wear. There is no doubt that clothing makes an
impression upon those who see us and upon those who wear it. Research has
shown that schools that have a dress uniform have an ability to deal with
problems of student discipline more easily than the free and open schools
of casual, whatever you like type of dress.
But there is a responsibility that comes with wearing special clothing.
And that responsibility is to be people of “honor and glory.” The Talmud
states almost ironically that he who wishes to sin should travel to a
place where he is unknown and to wear “black clothing” so that his
behavior will not reflect on the whole of Israel.
There are differing interpretations of what “black clothing” means in this
context. But it is clear that it means a type of anonymous and casual
clothing that will not reflect upon the Torah community and Judaism
generally. One cannot wear the garments of “honor and glory” and behave in
a fashion that contradicts those values. Wearing garments is something
that should never be taken lightly. For with the garments come the
responsibilities and challenges as well.
In the Second Temple when the anointing oil crafted by Moshe no longer
existed, the rabbis stated that just donning the garments of the
priesthood became the installation ceremony of the kohanim. I think that
this is true in our world and time as well.
Rabbi Berel Wein