Posts Tagged 'Clothing'

Yadid’s Bar Mitzvah Speech for Tetzaveh and Purim

This week marks the first anniversary of Yadid’s Bar Mitzvah. It is hard to believe that he is about to be 14 years old and in a few short month he will be off to high school.  To mark this moment I wanted to share the Dvar Torah Yadid gave at the ceremony he had at our synagogue.

When I was in Toronto, for my cousin Eliyahu’s Bar Mitzvah, our friends the Horowitz’s suggested I go to a high quality, low cost tailor nearby. I went to the tailor and I tried on a couple of suits. While wearing the suits I felt like a king. I started thinking about how clothes affect how people are seen and see themselves. My sister, Emi, can be intensely focused on her clothes and has said, “ Clothes is life”.  While I was learning with Rabbi Marder I had a thought that clothing has a role in helping people connect with the the idea of majesty. But how? You might ask.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, we see an elaborate description of the Bigdei Kehuna. Part of the Bigdei Kehuna is a vest that is turquoise- Techelet, gold and purple (Exodus 28:6-8). Like the blue color of a hyperlink linking web pages the Techelet connects the Cohan’s clothing to the Techelet  in our ancestor’s tzitzit, eventually to G-d’s  Kisei Hakavod– saphire heavenly throne. Now we see that our ancestors looked at the Bigdei Kehuna and saw a representative of God in heaven.

What does it mean to represent God? In regard to this I wanted to share  an interesting piece by Kafka. He wrote, ” The emperor of the imperial sun sent a messenger out with an important message; a strong indefatigable man running through the crowd. Every time the messenger met resistance he would point at his breast which bore the sign of the sun- the king’s symbol and people would get out of his way ( Emperor of China).

Maybe this is why my Abba is always getting on my case about wearing tzitzit?

So when our ancestors saw the Kohen Gadol they saw a representative of God. If that is how our ancestors saw the Kohen Gadol, how did the Kohen Gadol see himself?

We read in Tetzaveh that the Kohanim were dressed like this because, “ l’kavod uLetriferet” (Exodus 28:2). Meaning they were dressed up for honor and splendor. But whose honor and whose splendor? Who? The Kohanim, God, or even B’nai’ Israel? The answer is, likely, that it was for all three. The Kohanim are singled out and special. How could they not see themselves as special sporting the tekhelet and the special robes?

The symbolism of clothing, and its connection to both honor and position, is very much present in this week’s Haftorah as well. King Saul has failed to carry out G-d’s instructions and the Prophet Samuel announces that HaShem has now rejected Saul as king. Samuel turns away to leave and Saul grabs Samuel’s tunic, ripping it. In response to that Samuel said just like this, “HaShem has ripped the kingship of Israel away from you today.”  Here we see that the  clothing carries the full symbolism of the role.

In the words of the Bard, “Spend all you can afford on clothes, but make sure they’re quality, not flashy, since clothes make the man” (Hamlet). Saul admits to his wrong doing, then begs Samuel to not embarrass him in front of the elders of the people. He pleads Kabdeni– for his honor.  We hear the root Kavod here, echoing the use in the description of the Kohen’s clothing, “l’kavod ultifaret” and G-d’s Kisei Hakavod – heavenly throne.  Saul is not worried about how he represents God’s honor, only how his honor is perceived by B’nai Israel. Unlike in this week’s parasha,Torah portion, when the Kohanim are serving God to honor God, Saul, having lost God’s favor, is not focused on how he represents God as the king. Rather, Saul is more concerned with how being king represents him in front of the people.  Sad for Saul.

Interestingly we see a similar discussion in Megillat Esther which I will be reading tomorrow at my Bar Mitzvah ( Yadid’s Bar Mitzvah was celebrated the next day on Purim). Achashverosh wakes up in the middle of the night and he has the book of chronicles read to him. It is brought to his attention that Mordecai saved his life and was never recognized or rewarded for this. Achashverosh asks Haman: “מַה לַעֲשׂוֹת בָּאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ- What he should do  “to honor someone the king wants to honor” ( This was according to Onkelos’ translation of  yakar as kavod )?  Haman says that the man should be dressed in the king’s clothes, wear the king’s crown and be paraded around Shushan on the king’s horse. The king agrees – well, sort off.  He says that Mordechai should be led around with the king’s clothes and the king’s horse. Notably, he excludes the crown. By Haman’s asking for the crown and the king excluding the crown we can see that both Haman and Achashverosh see the crown not just as another accessory of his outfit, but wearing the crown has symbolic value which means that the person donning the crown is king.  The clothing themselves imply something royal, and that crown seals the deal.

So, what connects our three texts? And how do they help our understanding of the concept of honor? In the Megillah, on a superficial way honor can be worn, but it is much harder to actually  attain. In the haftorah, we learn that even if one is stripped of kingship, one should not be stripped of honor.  There is a baseline of honor due to everyone, even someone who has failed God. In Tetzaveh, the clothing is there for honor as well, but it less so to demand respect as to a king then to inspire a connection to the King.

The berachah, blessing, for seeing a king is Shechalak Mikvodo lebasar v’dam– that G-d has shared some of his honor with flesh and blood. When you see a king you should honor them- give them kavodI can imagine at the moment of my being faced with a real life King- l’kavod uLetriferet with all of their pomp and circumstance I would be overwhelmed. The very nature of taking this moment to make a beracha to God reframes the experience. Like our ancestors, we can double click on the Techelet from the Bigdei Kehunah and be taken to an image of God’s Kisei Hakavod – heavenly throne. The honor due to do a King is but a helek, a part, of God’s infinite honor.

It is true that we are all created B’Tzelem Elochim, in the image of God, and when we see a King we get a chance to see a magnified version God’s majesty.  This blessing gives us a way to give a flesh and blood king the proper respect regardless of their imperfection. This is like what we learn from Samuel. It also reminds us never to be fooled like Haman and Achashverosh into thinking  that majesty is as simple as wearing a crown. But how do we make sense of this blessing in light of the Megillah and in our world in which God is often hidden from view? As we will read in the Megillah tonight this corrupt world view leads to thinking that people can be bought and sold with no respect of their divine nature. Perhaps this is why we dress up in costume on Purim. In the absence of perceived God we can project an ideal that clothes might inspire us to seek out God and dress ourselves in the moral fabric that ensures that we treat everyone with respect and honor.

And when I stand here today in my Bar Mitzvah suit, I feel a little majestic. My family and friends are here from all over the world to celebrate me. But I take this moment to realized that clothes should inspire us to emulate something greater not make us think we are greater.

Thank you Rabbi Marder for helping me with my speech, thank you everyone for joining me for this coronation of sorts. Thank you Abba and Mami for helping me with troupe, planning and more, and thank you Shama, Emi and Libi for cheering me up when I was down and helping me see myself for what I can be with or without a majestic suit. Shabbat Shalom and have a majestic Purim.

I am still so proud of my majestic son.

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Tu B’Av Shop

Today we celebrate Tu B’Av. About which we read:

Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av, was a joyous holiday in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem. Unmarried girls would dress in simple white clothing (so that rich could not be distinguished from poor) and go out to sing and dance in the vineyards surrounding Jerusalem to find their matches. (Ta’anit 30b-31a)

There are many ways that we distinguish ourselves from each other by our clothing. In these choices we see taste and style, but we can also see how we spend money and communicate our class. In the words of Macklemore in his hit song Thrift Shop:

They be like, ‘Oh, that Gucci- that’s hella tight.’ I’m like, “Yo- that’s fifty dollars for a T-shirt’. Limited edition, let’s do some addition. Fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant”

It is entertaining, feel free to watch the video:

It is absurd how much attention we give to our clothing. But not giving any thought into what we wear is also not a good thing.

This morning we sent our eldest child to overnight camp for the first time. It is interesting to reflect on the role of clothing at camp. Camp is a place where we do not all need to be the same to be equal. In camp we are all part of a big family and many of us share our clothing. And despite the fact that I spend a long time yesterday putting labels on all of his clothes, I am pretty certain that the clothing we sent with him to camp is not what will come back.

Our son does not own expensive clothing, but it was still nice to see him want to change his shirt this morning. He changed from a t-shirt to a collared shirt. He wanted to look nice for this day of meeting new people. I know that he just left, but I am already looking forward to his return. I know that he will find joy from the camp t-shirt that he will bring him back. For years to come this humble t-shirt will remind him of a place in which we was an equal as a member of a vibrant community. And he might even meet his match?

Peeling the Layers

In this week’s Torah portion, parshat Tetzaveh, we read about the sacred clothes made for Aaron and his sons who are going to be the priests. It says that these vestments provide them glory and splendor (Exodus 28:1). It is clear that there are many layers of meaning behind all of the layers of the clothing of the priest, but do the clothes make the man? Would the same people be up to doing their job serving as intermediaries for the Israelites were not for the clothes?

It does seem that clothing gives us a social context for understanding someone’s role in society. So while wearing certain clothes does not determine the color of your character, it might inspire you to act the part.

Just as the priests are set apart in a special space with their special duties, Adam and Eve were set apart in the Garden of Eden charged to have dominion over nature. It is only after they eat from the Tree of Knowledge that they become uncomfortably aware of their being naked. Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” If you hope to make a change in the world try to dress the part. Try an experiment of dressing up one day. See if people treat you differently. But, even more importantly – see if you act differently. What you wear can transform your  image of yourself and, in turn, transform you.

Recently I went to a great conference on Israel education representing education at camp. I got to thinking about camp people, Israelis, and how both tend to under-dress for events. I have said before and I will say it again;  I love camp people because we take our work, but not ourselves seriously. While the priests needed to dress up to take their work seriously, with Purim coming up I realize that some times we need to put on costumes to ensure that do not take ourselves too seriously.  We need to peel off  all of the layers and remember that we need to get out of our own way to do our work.  As my son Yishama always says, ” Seriously Abba? Seriously.”

Look Who Is Talking

In Ki Tavo, this week’s Torah portion, it records the laws we are to keep upon our entrance into the Promised Land. There we read;

It shall be on the day that you cross the Jordan to the Land that HaShem, your God, gives you, you shall set up great stones and you shall coat them with plaster. You shall inscribe on them all the words of the Torah, when you cross over, so that you may enter the Land that HaShem, your God, gives you. …” (Deuteronomy 27:2-3)

There are many questions we can ask about these stones. Are these stones built as a cause or an effect of their entering into the land?  And an even simpler question, which direction did these stones face? Were they facing the residence in the Land or their neighbors?

Reflecting on these questions I think about my daily commute into New York City. In my transit through Metro North and Grand Central Station I come into contact with hundreds if not thousands of people daily. As I am prone to do, I take note of what people decided to wear. What aspects of their identity are they choosing to disclose? Is what they are wearing a cause or effect of the places they are traveling, who they are, or who they want to appear to be? Many are wearing a symbol some variety or other. What do these symbols represent? Do they wear these things  for themselves to experience or for others to see?

There is no doubt that this consciousnesses is a product of my choice to wear a kipah. Regardless if we realize it or not we all are communicating with the people around us with the symbols of our lives. In that sense these messages are as much for our neighbors as for ourselves. It is what we tell people about ourselves which informs our aspirations for the people we hope to become. In turn these symbols help inform our habits.

These stones from this week’s Torah portion were as much billboards of the Torah on the banks of the Jordan as the t-shirt a freshman in college wears for his/her first day of college. Even if we are not about to erect a large stone monolith or a 9/11 memorial, we all could take a moment and think about the messages we send and make sure they line up with the people you want to become.

We could also explore how we communicate with the land itself. I found this piece, “The art of wearable communication” by Kate Hartman, to be very compelling.

While delightfully quirky, there is no doubt it takes this conversation about communication to the next level. Look who is talking now.

Revealing Food and Clothes

On the heels of last week’s Torah portion in which Jacob steals the birthright and the blessing from his brother Esav, this week’s Torah portion begins with Jacob running away from Esav. Just before Jacob leaves the land of Canaan he makes a vow to God, saying:

If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to wear,  so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God (Genesis 28:20-21)

His vow seems to be theologically charged with the possibility that God’s existence is contingent on God providing for Jacob. Some of the words in the vow seem to be superfluous. Of course food is to be eaten and clothing is to be worn, why does Jacob ask for “bread to eat, and clothing to wear”? It was Jacob himself who used food to get the birthright from Esav and food and clothing to deceive his father and get the blessing. How can Jacob ever look at food and clothing the same way again?

Even though it seems that the deception changed Jacob as a person, it never made him suspect that people would try to deceive him the same way in the future. Sure enough in this week’s Torah portion Jacob gets hoodwinked into marrying a cloaked Leah instead of his beloved Rachel. He then gets deceived by his sons who bring their father Joseph’s clothes with blood on them to support their claim that their brother Joseph was killed. Finally, Jacob will send his sons down to Egypt to get food and there they will all get deceived by Joseph. Ironically, despite Jacob’s claim that food and clothing should be used for their normal use, his life is marked by their use for deception.

If we look at the vow that Jacob makes, in this light, we see that the words are not superfluous and he really wanted God to let him forget the sins of his youth. Surely Jacob’s teshuvah, return, is a lifetime in the making. As we read in Hallel, “The rock that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). We can try to run from our past, but one way or another it will catch up with us. Just as in Jacob’s vow, the true revelation of God is contingent upon the true revelation of self.


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