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The miracle of slow fashion

What would you do if you had to pack for a forty-year trek in the desert?

In Parhsat Ekev, B’nai Yisrael are reminded of how God took care of them for forty years in the wilderness. In Devarim 8:4 we read “Your garment did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years.” We see a similar statement in Parshat Ki Tavo, Dvarim 29:4, “I have led you forty years in the wilderness, your garment has not worn out on you and your shoes have not worn out on your feet.”

How do we explain the concept that B’nai Yisrael did not need new clothing or shoes for forty years?

According to Rashi, the Clouds of Glory rubbed the grime off of their clothing and pressed them like pressed garments. Mizrachi adds that they did not require laundering and were never outgrown.

Rashi explains that their children’s clothing grew with them just like a snail’s shell grows with it. Gur Aryeh adds that the clothing was presented to them by the angels at Mt. Sinai.

Ibn Ezra brings two totally different ideas:

  1. They took enough clothing out of Egypt that it lasted them for forty years.
  2. The manna did not cause them to perspire so their clothing did not get ruined by sweat.

Ramban’s view is that the clothing lasting them for 40 years had to be a miracle just like the miracle of the manna falling from the sky. He refutes Ibn Ezra’s second opinion and explains that if you were to cover a rafter with a new cloth it would wear out after 40 years, even if there was no perspiration.

We see from here that the idea of clothing having a long lifespan is nothing short of a miracle.

What can we do today, in the age of fast fashion, to keep our clothing in good shape for as long as possible?

The best place to start is to buy good quality clothing that will hold up in the laundry after many washes as we don’t have the Clouds of Glory to help us out anymore.

Classic styles that won’t look out of place after a few seasons are better bets than trends that come and go.

When visiting Jerusalem’s Museum of North African Jewry, I was amazed by a dress that they had on display. The dress was worn for every fancy occasion beginning with the wedding. There was room for the dress to expand so that it could be worn to the brit mila as well as other happy occasions that would come up over the years. It was a beautiful well made dress that would last for years. Since this was a tradition before the modern camera, there was no pressure to be wearing a different dress in the photos from each simcha. The idea of having one “special occasion dress” makes a lot of sense. If it is a good quality dress and it is still in good condition, why not continue to wear it.

Just as God provided for B’nai Yisrael in the wilderness and made sure that their clothing lasted, so too, we should make an effort to take care of our clothing and prolong the life of each garment in order to make sure that we are taking care of our environment in the best possible way and not purposely wasting resources and textiles.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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