This week’s parsha describes the special Bigdei Kehuna, the garments worn by the priests in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. Since when is fashion so important in the Torah? Why do we need so much detail about each of these special garments?
One approach might be that the Kohanim must dress in a special uniform in order to inspire and impress upon all who observe them the holiness of their work. But another approach might be that the Kohanim wear this special uniform not for the onlookers, but for themselves.
Wearing a uniform can have multiple benefits. It might build solidarity and unity between everyone wearing the uniform. It might level the playing field so that there is less pressure to stand out from the crowd. It also might help the person wearing the uniform feel differently about themselves. For example, when someone puts on a jacket and tie they may feel more professional than when they dress more casually.
The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 99) explains that sometimes external actions (such as dressing a certain way) influence our inner thoughts and feelings:
משרשי המצוה היסוד הקבוע לנו כי האדם נפעל לפי פעלותיו ואחרי מחשבותיו וכונותיו
From the roots of the commandment is the principle established for us, that a person is impacted according to his actions and pursuant to his thoughts and intentions.
The Kohanim wear these garments in order to impress upon themselves the importance of the service they are about to perform. Even if no one witnesses their work, the Kohanim are sending a message to themselves to approach this holy task with the right frame of mind.
This coming week we will celebrate Purim. Many have the custom of dressing up in costumes. This is based on a deeper idea, that to really see the essence of a person you have to look beneath the surface, beneath the persona which we sometimes put on to mask who we really are.
As parents and educators, it is our responsibility to help our children discover who they truly are, what their gifts and strengths are, and what they are passionate about. So often kids (and even adults) worry about what others think. We dress to impress. But maybe the conversation about fashion really should be about dressing the way we want to feel about ourselves.
Your thoughts and ideas are always welcome. Please feel free to reach out to me.
Rabbi Aaron Levitt
Jewish Educational Services – The Associated (Baltimore)