Parshat Tetzaveh: What your clothes really say about you
Based on the writings of Rav Natan of Breslov.
Shemot 28:30: “Aharon shall bear over his heart the [clothing of] judgment of the Children of Israel.”
Throughout the ages, the clothing a person wears has always been a huge part of their standing in the world. In the middle ages, the nobles would wear enormously high, towering powdered wigs – the higher the wig, the bigger their status.
And in our days too, so many people are obsessed with wearing designer labels and the ‘latest fashions’ and expensive jewellery, to send a message to observers that
‘here stands a successful, important person.’
Little wonder, then, that Rav Natan teaches us that:
“The negative characteristic of pride is most closely associated with a person’s wealth…[and] the most obvious expression of a person’s pride is through his clothing.”
Why do people waste so much time, money and effort on clothes?
So many people waste their time in this world chasing after money, and then waste so much of their hard-earned money and time chasing after the latest fashions. And what’s at the root of all of this crazy behavior? Pride and a desire for other people to honor us.
So, Rav Natan teaches us that the true Jewish way is to carefully evaluate if our clothes and possessions are going to somehow add to Hashem’s glory in the world, or the opposite, God forbid.
Aharon HaKohen’s job
This was part of Aharon HaKohen’s holy work in the Mishkan, when the nation of Israel were travelling through the desert for 40 years, and later on, it became the work of the Kohen HaGadol in the temple, too.
Because who dressed more sumptuously than the Kohen HaGadol, who wore a breastplate and apron studied with enormous gems, representing the 12 twelves? Rav Natan tells us that:
“The Kohen HaGadol would carry them all ‘over his heart’, to rectify the desire for power and wealth that is rooted in the pride that a person expresses via his clothing.”
But even when the Kohen HaGadol dressed so sumptuously solely for holy reasons, when he wanted to approach even closer to the Source, in the holy of holies – he removed all of his expensive clothing and fabulous gold and gemstones, and appeared before Hashem dressed in simple white linen garments.
When it comes to serving God, less is definitely more
The message is clear: while it is possible for a person to serve God with costly garments and great wealth (although still very hard to do in practice), the higher level of serving God, and of rectifying our own arrogant, honor-seeking tendencies, is to avoid all ostentatious demonstrations of wealth, and to dress as simply as we can.