Clothing conceals. Clothing defines. Clothing elevates.
Clothing is behind both this week’s parasha and the holiday of Purim, clothing in all of the roles it plays. In this week’s parasha, Tetzaveh, there is a long complex description of Aaron’s vestments. He is to be the High Priest, and he needs special clothes that are appropriate to his standing. Aaron’s sons , Nadav, Avihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, are to be included in this finery. These are very fine clothes, indeed: a breastplate, a fringed tunic, a headdress and a sash. There are precious stones, and colorful yarns. There are bells along the hems of the tunics. There are braided chains of gold and cords of blue linen.
When Aaron and his sons donned their vestments, they were transformed. They became the Priests. Certainly, without the clothing, there were still rules they had to live by. But when they put on the garments, something wholly/holy momentous took place. There was an order to getting dressed for their jobs, a ritual in and of itself, preparing them for the work they were to do in the holy space. Their clothes defined their work. To an extent, when they are wearing those very special clothes, they become very specialized people. Yes, the clothes do make the priest.
Then there’s Purim. A holiday of clothes, too, but this time we’re looking to escape, be someone else, when we put on a Purim costume. Where Aaron becomes more of who he is, we try to become someone completely different. Aaron and his sons were “dressed by God”. For Purim, we choose our own costumes, and lose ourselves in the controlled chaos of the holiday. Everyone in Purim was hiding, as the rabbis say, even God. God doesn’t appear as a character in the story, whereas God is everywhere in the Exodus passage.
All of the characters have clothes that define who they are…sort of: Achashverus is a king, but doesn’t rule beyond throwing parties. Haman doesn’t wear the clothes of a king, yet he rules the king from behind the throne, hiding his power until he wants to use it. Vashti wears the clothes of a strong, beautiful queen, but is de-throned, stripped of her vestments and her influence. Esther is a young girl who becomes a queen, wearing the clothes but not feeling the part, until she has to step up and finally act the queen she is. To do this, she throws off her “mask” of hiding her identity, and wears her robes for real. And Mordechai? His clothes don’t change, he is who he is – perhaps the only one in the story who is: a citizen, a Jew, a loyal subject of the King, but with unwavering internal center.
Ever since the Garden, clothes have been crucial to defining ourselves. With my very first “corporate” job, I used to get up, put on the suit (back then, it really was suits),the makeup, do my hair, and put on my costume for my job. I looked in the mirror each morning, and asked, “Was it really me?”No, not at all, and I didn’t last long there. Now, however, I do the same thing, but it feels far more like me. I’ve grown into the costume, perhaps. When I get ready to go onstage, and I put on my character’s makeup and costume, it is a transformation that doesn’t happen when I’m just rehearsing in my street clothes. When I put on my tallit to lead or take part in prayer, it changes my behavior, my intention, my very bearing.
Who will you be for Purim? Who will you be the next day?