Do the Clothes Make the Man? Our Parsha talks about clothing, the garments of the High Priest. And it seems so appropriate to be reading about the elaborate and ornate vestments of the Kohein Gadol at Purim time. After all, the Purim story is narrated, amongst other literary devices, by means of clothing:
4:1 “Mordecai rent his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and he went out into the midst of the city and cried [with] a loud and bitter cry.”
5:1 “On the third day, Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace”
6:7-8 “For the man whom the king delights to honor, let a royal robe be brought which the king has worn… and a royal crown placed on his head”
8:15 “Mordechai went out … in royal apparel of blue and white, with a great crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple; and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad”
Sackcloth and ashes are transformed into royal clothing, expressing the impending doom and destruction that is transformed to rejoicing. And of course, we mask ourselves on Purim, donning all manner of costume. Clothing plays an important role in human society. Maybe that is why the Torah is so pedantic to craft meaningful garments for the High Priest, regal clothing which represents God (the Tzitz / headband is engraved “Holy to God”), but also Israel (the breastplate is engraved with the names of the 12 Tribes).
But are clothes in fact masks? Is clothing something which expresses my true essence, or perhaps it obscures and hides the real person? In Hebrew, the word “beged” – a garment – bears the same letters as “bagad” – indicative of betrayal or subterfuge.
So let’s discuss:
What is the relationship between our clothes and ourselves?
Is a policeman only a law enforcer due to his or her uniform, is the doctor an authority only while wearing a white coat?
When we get “dressed up” for a party or a wedding, what do we feel? Why?
Are our work clothes our real self, or the casual dress of a Sunday at home? Or maybe our pyjamas?
Is your Purim costume really your hidden desires, something you cannot normally express?
Sefer Hachinuch discusses the High Priest’s clothing in the following manner:
“A person is affected and transformed by means of his or her actions... hence, it is fitting that the priest wear special clothes, that any moment in which he will glance at his body, he will be immediately reminded and reawakened to before Whom he serves.”
Here the clothes affect the person who wears the, They elevate and focus him.
But others suggest a different dynamic:
“Since Aharon must sanctify himself and act in a pious manner… he should be viewed in the eyes of the people as a person who is separate and above them… the clothes of splendour led people to understand that God saw Aharon as special” (Netziv. Haamek Davar)
Here, Aharon’s clothing reflects his elevated status, his holy personal comportment. It reflects and exposes his inner sanctity.
In truth, both are correct. We need clothing to express who we are to society. There are moments in which my clothes are aligned with my inner self and my state of mind. They amplify my inner world and tell people around me who I am.
But at other times, there can be a dissonance between me and my clothing. This can happen in a few ways. My clothes can influence me; my daily observance of Tzitzit and tefillin express my inner world but they also have the capability, like the priestly clothes, to raise me, to elevate me. Clothing can sometimes reflect a rebellion , and can drag a person down, highlighting unsavory sides within the individual. Sometimes, a dictator wears a uniform; he is weak inside, but the military apparel makes him look tough. In this instance, clothing is a mask of sorts, a false impression. So sometimes clothes display the true person; at other times it hides the person underneath.
The [priestly clothes mask the simple humanity of the High Priest, and turn him into a symbol. A symbol of God to the nation, and a representative of the nation before God. Hopefully, surrounded by these holy garments, the High Priest is constantly reminded of his mission, helping to ensure that he remains before God.
As we play with our masks and costumes this Purim, let us give some thought to who we are under our masks, to allow our true self to express itself to the outside. And to ask ourselves whether we allow our sanctity to express itself - inside and out?