It has been said that “clothes make the man” and, in these politically correct times, “the woman.”
In Tetzaveh we discover that Judaism has a lot to say about clothing, as we learn about the special garments the priests were to wear during the Temple service.
God instructs Moses: “Make sacral vestments for your brother Aaron, for dignity and adornment…a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash…” (Exodus 28:2-4)
The design, colors, and materials are described in exquisite detail, concluding with: “They shall be worn by Aaron and his sons when they enter the Tent of Meeting…. It shall be a law for all time for him and for his offspring to come.” (28:43)
When one is engaged in the service of the Lord, he or she must be dressed in a manner that befits that role and projects pride and dignity. To the extent that all of us are engaged in the service of the Lord, we must be mindful of our physical appearance and dress in a dignified manner.
The Talmud (Sabbath 114a) severely condemns individuals in religious public positions who dress sloppily; even the yeshiva student “upon whose clothing a greasy stain is found” is castigated in extreme terms.
This year, the Shabbat on which we read Tetzaveh is followed by Purim, when we read the Megillat Esther and find further support for the importance of clothing. We imagine that Esther, as queen, wore the finest apparel, but it is Mordechai’s clothing that is highlighted.
In the early chapters, when Haman has issued his genocidal decree, we read: “When Mordechai learned all that had happened, Mordechai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, until he came in front of the palace gate, for one could not enter the palace gate wearing sackcloth.” (Esther 4:1-2)
How significant it is that Mordechai expressed his grief and concern by changing his clothing; the garments he wore gave voice to his people’s pain.
Our sages suggest that it is precisely because he empathized so strongly with his brothers and sisters that he was ultimately privileged to don a different sort of clothing altogether. When the evil decree is revoked, we read: “Mordechai left the king’s presence in royal robes of blue and white, with a magnificent crown of gold and a mantle of fine linen and purple wool.” (Esther 8:15)
When the Jewish people suffer, the very clothing our leaders wear expresses our suffering. When the Jewish people celebrate their redemption, it is embodied in the garments those leaders choose to wear.
Esther is one of the five biblical scrolls. In Kohelet, we find: “Go, eat your bread in gladness, and drink your wine in joy…. Let your clothes always be freshly washed, and your head never lack ointment….” (9:7-8)
So on Purim we feast and drink wine in gladness. But our clothes, the external manifestation of our human dignity, must always be “freshly washed.”
We must never sully our behavior by celebrating in an excessive and unbecoming manner. We are entitled in our joy to wear “royal robes of blue and white,” but we must wear them with the same dignity and humility with which Aaron and his offspring wore their sacred garments.