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February 26, 2016  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Dress for success

By RABBI ALTER KORF Chabad Center of St. Petersburg

Do you love casual Fridays? Or do you enjoy dressing up for formal evening events? Somewhere in the middle?

The clothing we choose to wear expresses a certain deference and respect for the event at hand. If one were to go to a wedding dressed in sportswear, it would be offensive and inappropriate – demonstrating insensitivity towards the significance of the occasion. Wearing clothes that are appropriate indicates an awareness and appreciation of what the event is all about.

In today’s day and age when dressing down is the norm and dressing up is kept for special occasions, the theme discussed in current Torah portions seems quite archaic. The Torah describes the various priestly garments that the ordinary and high priests were required to wear during their service in the Tabernacle. The ordinary Kohen (priest) wore four special garments, while the High Priest wore eight. The garments were truly a masterpiece of design and color which added to the glory and splendor of the Kohanim.

It is clearly proper to dress appropriately while serving the Almighty.

On the other hand, one’s attire can be quite superficial and contrary to one’s true feelings or attitude. How many times do we see people who are properly dressed for the occasion but don’t act accordingly? Ultimately we all know that it isn’t the attire, but rather the intent and attitude that really matter.

Why then was the priestly dress code given such great significance? Isn’t Judaism about who the person is rather than what he wears? Shouldn’t the Torah focus on the virtues needed to achieve the status of High Priest and the appropriate etiquette and spiritual preparedness required for serving G-d, rather than the outer trappings of the role?

There is a famous philosophical question which is discussed by great Jewish thinkers of old. Does the heart influence one’s actions, or do his actions influence his heart? Everyone agrees that the feelings of the heart are the great motivator to action. But can one’s heart be influenced from the outside, by external actions? The answer that is given by many is an emphatic YES! The clothes you wear, the way you act, and many seemingly superficial aspects of life do affect you.

This is the reason why Torah places such great emphasis on the external appearance of the Kohen. It is to demonstrate the power that even an external, physical appearance can exert. Although it may be external, it contains the capacity to actually affect the inner core of the person.

An interesting recent study showed that people who forced themselves to smile actually felt better and became happier. The external movement of certain muscles in the face was capable of affecting the happiness of the person.

On a deeper level, the garments of the Kohen represent thought, speech, and action, which are the garments of the soul. Just as garments express a person’s status and occupation, so too, one’s thought, speech, and action express the intellect and personality of the soul. Additionally, just as garments can be changed rather easily, so too these soul garments can be changed almost instantaneously. This is in marked contrast to one’s actual character traits and attitudes, which take much more time and effort to change. The focus on the Kohen’s garments teaches us that although we may not feel a certain way, when we make an effort to think, speak, and act in this way we can actually change our feelings and attitudes. When we use our thought, speech, and action for Torah and Mitzvot, we can create a feeling of love and closeness to G-d, because our feelings are truly impacted by our actions.

(Nevertheless we must also remember that physical or even spiritual garments aren’t sufficient to entirely change who we are. There must always be a conscious effort to improve ourselves and change from within as well.)

So the next time we get dressed for Shabbat or a special Jewish occasion, let us remember that dressing down may not be such a good idea. The way we look and what we wear – both materially and spiritually – do make a difference. The Kohen Gadol was not complete without his special priestly clothes; our garments, too, must be elegant, and appropriate to help us reach perfection in our service of G-d. Let’s dress for success!

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. The views expressed in this guest column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press or the Board of Rabbis.

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