Sruli Fruchter
Sruli Fruchter

Parshat Tetzaveh: Clothing of the Soul

Clothing (Pixabay)

Our clothing communicate something about ourselves to the world; they provide a window into the inner character of who we are, or at least who we want others to perceive. To quote the cliché line, they “make a statement.” While some may view outfits and style-choices to be superficial and meaningless, clothing are a much richer opportunity for self-expression, in the deepest sense of the term, as we see in Parshat Tetzaveh.

Parshat Tetzaveh focuses primarily on the garments of the Kohen Gadol (high priest) and kohanim (priests) that they wear during their divine service in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and Beit HaMikdash (Temple). Hashem instructs Moshe Rabbeinu early in the parsha, “Make holy garments for your brother Aharon, for dignity and adornment. Next you shall instruct all who are skillful, whom I have endowed with the gift of skill, to make Aharon vestments, for consecrating him to serve Me as priest” (Shemos 28:2-3). The remainder of the parsha examines the details of the specific articles of clothing.

Initially, it seems quite strange that the Torah would focus so much on what the Kohen Gadol wears during his service. Shouldn’t we be focused solely on the content of his actions and his overall conduct? It almost seems shallow to suggest otherwise. This, however, is a deeply mistaken approach, and Malbim shares a powerful take that shows why.

Malbim says that while the latter pasuk refers to the literal, outer clothing of the kohanim, the first refers to much a deeper level of clothing: the soul’s clothing. While the craftsmen were tasked with creating those physical garments for the kohanim, Moshe Rabbeinu was instructed to “clothe” their souls, and the soul’s clothing are the characteristics of a person — their goodness, patience, kindness, honesty, and wisdom, for example. Through Moshe Rabbeinu’s guidance, the souls of the kohanim would shine through with a Divine radiance and glory, cloaking them in the light of Hashem.

We can see, then, that there are two elements to a person’s clothing: the outer and the inner. The two are similar in that they both convey something of that beneath it; literal clothing express a part of the person, their personality and identity, and the characteristics express sparks of the soul. The goal, however, is to have our soul’s garments match our body’s garments and deliver the same message of who we are, what we believe, and what we value. For the Kohen Gadol, this is surely the case, and it makes his clothing so much more special and authentic to who he is.

Rav Kook writes, “Only holiness, individual and universal, has its own character and its own source of life. But the non-holy, and all the more so the evil and impure, do not have their own personality or their own essential desires. They are only being propelled by external means, which move one to physical or spiritual actions. The source of desire, passion, and personality is in the realm of the holy, and those who are connected to it will be affected by it” (“Shmoneh Kevatzim” 5:39).[1]

Ultimately, if holiness is the only thing that is authentic and the source of life, then that should tell us about ourselves as well. In that case, the garbs of our soul should represent our truest essence: love, peace, justice, and holiness. The Kohen Gadol dresses in a way that expresses his true substance as a soul, a part of Hashem. Thinking in these terms, our clothing become an opportunity to manifest ourselves as souls through the garments we wear.

[1] As translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 59

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter studied for one year at Yeshivat Orayta and is now studying International and Global Affairs at Yeshiva University. He enjoys writing on a spectrum of topics, specifically on the weekly parsha.
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