Torah Thoughts for Today
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
#20: The (De)Construction of (Wo)Man: Holy Clothes, Purim, Adam & Eve
The (De)Construction of (Wo)Man:
Holy Clothes, Purim, Adam & Eve
(Related to the weekly Torah portion of Tetzaveh (“Command”) read in synagogue. Exodus, Chapter 27, verse 20 – Chapter 30, verse 10. English text and commentary at http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=2&CHAPTER=27
Dedicated to my parents.)
“The Emperor has no clothes” is an old English expression that tells us that a real “Emperor” without royal clothing, or a feeble pretender who may even seem like an “emperor”, are powerless when they don’t have the necessary wherewithal to be real “Emperors”. In other words, they don’t have what it takes to be in a leadership position because they are vulnerable and weak due to their “lack of clothing”, meaning nothing to back them up, and are in effect “naked” and humiliated, (what else does “has no clothes” mean?)
Another well know expression is that “Clothes Makes the Man (and Woman)”, because as we all know, the concept of what one wears is considered to be a “fashion statement”. Powerful leaders wear “power ties”. Women set on gaining attention “dress to kill”. Pin- striped suits bespeak corporate status. For the fashion conscious there are Spring and Fall fashion shows to be followed with oohs and aahs, and followed up with purchases: The more expensive the item, the greater its symbol of elite status. For those who remember, Imelda Marcos had thousands of exquisite shoes that she hardly wore, but which were an expression of her and her husband’s absolute rule in the Philippines.
Then there is the other end of the spectrum. The power that flows from negative attention when people “take it all off”. Famous actors and actresses feel it’s their “ticket to fame and fortune” only when they “let it all hang out” in front of millions of viewers. Most are just unknown bores, but a few suddenly get catapulted to the headlines sections with their personal online orgies. What’s THAT all about?
The bulk of this week’s Torah portion describes the commands Moses receives from God about how to DRESS UP THE PRIESTS (“KOHANIM”), particularly the extra-ordinary garments that Moses’ brother, Aaron the newly appointed High Priest (“KOHEN GADOL”) was to wear when performing the SERVICE (“AVODAH”) in the SANCTUARY – “MISHKAN” and then later to be continued when the Jewish Holy Temples were to be erected in Jerusalem: “MAKE CLOTHES OF HOLINESS (VESTMENTS) – ‘BIGDEI KODESH’ FOR AARON YOUR BROTHER FOR HONOR AND FOR GLORY” (Exodus, Chapter 28, verse, 2).
These opening words set the theme for this week’s portion as well as at the end of Exodus, in the final Torah portion of Pekudey (“Accounts”) there is a detailed description of the completion of these items, see Exodus, Chapter 39 http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=2&CHAPTER=39
What is the immediate context as well as the greater context for this entire subject of elevating the clothing of select individuals to such high levels of holiness and what does it teach the rest of us in general terms about the power of clothing?
Can we pinpoint specific episodes and events in the Torah that focus directly on this issue of clothing generally and what it means to the human race?
Fascinatingly, there is a custom to DRESS UP IN COSTUMES AND DISGUISES ON PURIM DAY, so what is the connection, if any, with the over-all (no pun meant) subject of getting dressed?
I would like to outline the sources in the Torah for the delicate subject of humans and clothes, how it comes to be that the High Priest – “Kohen Gadol” must wear a “Divine Uniform”, and a direct connection to the entire Purim saga as it first happened to the Jews under the Persian Empire about 2,400 years ago, and some lessons for our modern age.
In Genesis we are told that Adam and Eve, before they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – “Etz Hada’at Tov Vera”, were totally NAKED, and were not ashamed about it. After they ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they suddenly become aware and ashamed of their nakedness:
“The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not embarrassed by one another…The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and desirable to the eyes, and that the tree was attractive as a means to gain intelligence. She took some of its fruit and ate [it]. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate [it]. The eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked. They sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves loincloths.”
“They heard God’s voice moving about in the garden with the wind of the day. The man and his wife hid themselves from God among the trees of the garden. God called to the man, and He said, ‘Where are you [trying to hide]?’ ‘I heard Your voice in the garden,’ replied [the man], ‘and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.’[God] asked, ‘Who told you that you are naked? Did you eat from the tree which I commanded you not to eat?’…”
“…God made leather garments for Adam and his wife and He clothed them.”
“God said, ‘Man has now become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now he must be prevented from putting forth his hand and also taking from the Tree of Life. He [can] eat it and live forever!’ God banished [man] from the Garden of Eden, to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove away the man, and stationed the cherubim at the east of Eden, along with the revolving sword blade, to guard the path of the Tree of Life.” (Genesis, Chapters 2 – 3) 
Classical Judaism teaches that the need and entire purpose of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants, the Children of Israel-The Jewish People is for them to RECTIFY the wrongs in the world, make a “TIKKUN OLAM”, and the notion of Adam and Eve’s nakedness stands as a great sign for the direction to follow. On the intimate level of husband and wife, a man and woman can and do revert to the level of Adam and Eve as they join in nudity to love each other and to become partners with God in the creation of new life. This is only on the private and personal miniscule microcosmic level. On a greater scale, the vast macrocosm of the totality of civilization, nudity cannot just be “FORBIDDEN” like a minor traffic offense because it is not just totally impractical due to climactic and aesthetic reasons, it is also going in the opposite direction that people should go in according to the Torah’s trustworthy guidelines, which is to aspire to that level of civilization that acknowledges that “clothing, like manners, makes the man and the woman.”
It was God Himself that dressed Adam and Eve in “garments of leather” to give them a level of self-respect that their own self-made skimpy fig leaves could never do for them.
Our Torah portion comes on the heels of the giving of the Ten Commandments. They were to be preserved in a SANCTUARY called the “MISHKAN” which with all its Divine Furnishings was meant to preserve and continue the fact that God had now given the Divine Law to the People of Israel for them to preserve, as they worshiped God and retained their Covenant with Him.
Simultaneously however, what had also happened at Mount Sinai with the giving of the Ten Commandments, was that the Jewish People had been transformed from slaves into free people. This is not just something “political” that happened to them. Something far deeper occurred as well: They were like new “converts” - “geirim” to the true Monotheistic faith as they were privileged to not just WITNESS God reveal Himself at Mount Sinai, but they also entered into a “COVENANT” – “BRIT” with Him meaning that they now became a completely new SPIRITUAL ENTITY, they received JEWISH S O U L S which meant they were now like new born, “Born Again”, members of the Covenant. This newly granted high level of holy Jewish spirituality needed a “home” as much as the Ten Commandments. The Jewish High Priest who is referred to as the “Heart of the Nation”, like the Jewish Kings would be later as well, became this special person: A public persona that could personify, maintain and preserve the HUMAN SIDE of the Revelation at Mount Sinai.
The Ten Commandments had their Ark of the Covenant as a Divinely ordained repository. For the newly arisen and established Jewish People, endowed with that EXTRAORDINARY DIVINE NATIONAL SOUL, a High Priest was consecrated to carry and care for the core super special spiritual legacy and essence of the true “Yiddishe Neshamah” – “The Jewish Soul”, AND HIS EXTERNAL APPEARANCE OF HOLY CLOTHING WAS DESIGNED BY THE ULTIMATE FASHION DESIGNER, GOD HIMSELF, TO REFLECT THAT SPECIAL ROLE THAT THE HIGH PRIEST FULFILLED.
As we know from History, the Jews have had their highs and lows many times over. The Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah, over 3,300 year ago was a great HIGH. From that point on, the Children of Israel went on to conquer Canaan, build up the Land of Israel, establish a monarchy, and BUILD a permanent Jewish temple in Jerusalem. However, the people began to show signs of “ wear and tear” as they lost the vision of why God had brought them out of Egypt: To be a guiding moral light to the nations of the world. Finally about 2,500 years ago, the wicked and cruel Babylonians appear and destroy the First Jewish Temple, placing the Jews in seemingly permanent exile. This is where and when the story of PURIM takes place, after Persia takes over Babylonia, and a King by the name of Ahasuerus arises, with a queen named VASHTI, and an evil advisor from the Nation of Amalek, by the name of Haman who steps forth to collude with the King against the Jews, by accusing them of disloyalty to Persia, and asking that they be exterminated (sounds like Spain of the Inquisition, or Nazi Germany and Europe during the Holocaust).
Now as Divine Fate / PROVIDENCE would have it, the entire plot becomes unraveled and turns into an upside down turnaround where the Jews go from being “Target Number One” designated for annihilation, to becoming a protected class of citizens with their own leaders saving them and guiding the fate of the Persian Empire.
And how does this all come about?Through the wiles and machinations of TWO WOMEN: VASHTI the Queen, first wife of Ahasuerus who loses her throne and her life, and the surprising selection of the JEWISH ESTHER who becomes the new Queen of Persia and savior of her people with the advice of her wise uncle MORDECHAI.
Now what was it that brought Ahasuerus to the point of ridding himself of his first beautiful wife?
Soon after he became king, he chose to throw a huge banquet and made a demand: That his wife VASHTI appear in the nude with only her crown on, in front of all the assembled “dignitaries”. She refused, and in a rage, the king ordered her execution that in turn opened the door to Esther who was chosen after many others had been rejected.
Classical Judaism has a very fascinating perspective on these events, and not all of them are recorded in the actual Megillah-Scroll Of Esther:
Why was Vashti confronted by such a challenge to appear in the nude in public? More specifically, why was God doing this to her? The answer that’s given is that because she had enslaved Jewish girls who had come from the Babylonian exile and MADE THEM WORK IN THE NUDE, so she was repaid in kind when she herself was challenged to appear in the nude PUBLICLY by her own husband the King.
Here is how the Oral Law MIDRASH RABBAH on ESTHER describes some of the behind the scenes goings on: “The subject of discussion among the guests was which nationality had the most beautiful women. This one claimed Median women are the most beautiful, and that one claimed Persian women are the most beautiful. Ahasuarus said to them, ‘The vessel which that man Ahasuerus uses is neither Median nor Persian, but a Chaldean. Do you want to see it?’… ‘Yes’, they said, ‘we want to see her, but only if she is undressed, except for her crown.’ As the verse indicates, the Queen was summoned to appear in her crown, and only that. He said to them, ‘All right’. And he agreed that she should come undressed. Ahasuerus asserted that Vashti was beautiful in her own right, not because of her regal finery or other external enhancements. Therefore, he accepted their challenge…”
“She offered to come dressed in no more than lingerie, unashamed to display herself in front of these men, since she was also immodest. Still, they did not allow her to do so. They insisted to her that she must come undressed… ‘I will come in without a crown’ Vashti argued. They objected, ‘the guests will claim that a maidservant had appeared in place of the queen…You must wear royal clothing (the crown) and enter.’…Vashti’s retort that it was improper to treat her so shamefully actually ignored the routine practice of the Babylonian monarchs to STRIP AND HUMILIATE THEIR CAPTIVES…Her contemptuous attitude, conveyed through the chamberlains, inflamed his anger…
We find other examples where the wicked suffer their condemnation undressed…The exaggerated outrage shows that this was Divine wrath rather than human anger. God was so enraged by the spectacle of a feast celebrating the destruction of the Jewish Temple and the cancellation of its construction that He incited Ahasuerus against Vashti. This was THE King-The Heavenly King, that is, who controlled these events.” 
Some of the commentators actually say that on some primal level, Ahasuerus and Vashti WERE in agreement. They had a mutual self-aggrandizing goal of “living it up” and “lapping it up” with wild parties and romps. With dark evil intuition they may have aspired to be rid of the limitations placed on Adam and Eve a long time ago, and just wanted to “let loose” without the “moral baggage” that came from the fallout from eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But such dark schemes are bound to flounder and fail, just as Haman fails in his plans to kill out the Jews, because there is an almost automatic mysterious hidden guiding hand or “mechanism” that somehow pushes all the trash into the garbage can of history. Wild parties featuring nudity, as Ahasuerus and Vashti learned bitterly, can turn out to be absolute catastrophes, as God pushes them “back into their box”. THE WORLD AND ITS PEOPLE ARE NOT “FAIR GAME”!
As a sign of Esther and Mordechai’s victory, they are dressed in royal garments declaring their higher status as worthy human beings. Conversely, during the Holocaust in Europe, 1939 – 1945, the German and European Nazis forced their Jewish victims to strip before executing them.
Thus it may seem that God “APPEARS” to be “HIDDEN” during tough times in History, which is actually what happens during the entire saga of PURIM in Persia. In fact, the name Esther, we are taught, is connected to the word “HESTER” in Hebrew, meaning “HIDDEN”.
WHY DO WE WEAR DISGUISES ON PURIM?
See http://www.ou.org/chagim/purim/disguises.htm :
“The custom to wear disguises on Purim in general is based on God's hiding His identity in the Megillah of Esther. The salvation of the Jewish People seems to be accomplished through the actions of people alone, and God's Name doesn't appear once. The custom to wear disguises on Purim and to appear as non-Jews is related to Jacob’s wearing of Esau's clothes when he received the blessings that were due him. It is as if we announce that just as Jacob only had the outer appearance of Esau, but was inwardly holy and pure, so are all appearances of evil in Israel only external, and inwardly we remain a holy people.”
“Israel and Amalek are two extremes in the history of the nations. They are furthest apart from each other, but as is sometimes the case with extremes, at times they seem similar to each other. It is the way of Esau, and of Amalek his descendant, to disguise himself in garments that are not his; to talk smoothly, to pretend to be pious and just, while inwardly harboring only evil, deception and cunning. You thus find it said of Esau: ‘For there is hunt in his mouth.’ His mouth and his heart are not equal. The same trait, but totally inverted, is found among the righteous of Israel. You thus find of David, King of Israel, who he appears like a sinner, whereas in truth he excelled in piety. The same trait characterized Jacob, whose righteousness was so much concealed from all eyes, that even his father Isaac failed to recognize his true self until Rebecca revealed his hidden traits and caused the blessings to be given to Jacob who alone was worthy of them.” 
In contradistinction to the shame of Adam and Eve, the humiliation of Vashti, the masks and disguises of Purim, and the childish exhibitionism of modern day “celebrities” who flash flesh faster than flies on a fresh fruit at high digital speed, comes along the Torah and teaches the meaning of ENNOBLING HUMANITY through the influence, power, and EXAMPLES TO OTHERS of the Priesthood, the “Kohanim”.
Aaron the High Priest is to have EIGHT SPECIAL ITEMS OF CLOTHING. See a general picture: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/26.htm Let us list the items on this picture in order, top to bottom, (note, this is only a rough “artist’s depiction”, it is obviously NOT the order in which the High Priest got dressed, and there are varying opinions among the sages as to the details of each of these eight garments):
According to the Talmud (Tractate Zevachim, 88b), each the eight items of clothing were endowed with spiritual powers that ATONED FOR SERIOUS SINS OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE : “Rabbi Inyani Bar Sason said: WHY ARE THE SECTIONS ON SACRIFICES AND THE PRIESTLY VESTMENTS CLOSE TOGETHER? TO TEACH YOU: AS SACRIFICES MAKE ATONEMENT, SO DO THE PRIESTLY VESTMENTS MAKE ATONEMENT.”
1) TURBAN / MITRE - “MITZNEFET”: “You shall make a linen TURBAN…” (Exodus, Chapter 28, verse 39):
The TURBAN atoned for the sin of arrogance. Said Rabbi Hanina: “Let the headdress that is worn high up [on the PRIEST’S head] atone for the sin of holding the head too high.”
2) HEAD-PLATE – “TZITZ”:
“You shall make a HEAD-PLATE of pure gold, and you shall engrave upon it, engraved like a signet ring, ‘HOLY TO GOD’…It shall be on Aaron’s forehead so that Aaron shall bring forgiveness for a sin…and it shall be on his forehead always, to bring them favor before God.” (Exodus, Chapter, 28, vs. 36 – 38):
This atoned for BRAZENNESS – “CHUTZPAH” described by Jeremiah as “…you had the ‘METZACH’ (denoting both the ‘FOREHEAD’ as well as ‘BRAZENNESS’/ ‘BOLDNESS’) of a harlot, you refused to be ashamed” (Jeremiah, Chapter 3, verse 3). Another opinion states that it atoned for blasphemy.
3) BREASTPLATE – “CHOSHEN”:
“Make a DECISION / JUDGMENT breastplate…Set it with four rows of mounted [precious] stones…The stones shall contain the names of the twelve sons of Israel…to represent the twelve tribes…Aaron will thus carry the names of Israel’s sons on the DECISION / JUDGMENT over his heart when he comes to the sanctuary. It shall be a constant remembrance before God. PLACE THE ‘URIM AND THUMIM’ (Lightings and Perfections – Parchments with God’s Holy Names written on them) in the decision / judgment breastplate, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he comes before God. Aaron will then carry the decision-making device for the Israelites before God at all times.” (Exodus, Chapter 28, vs. 15 – 30). 
The “CHOSHEN” was worn over the High Priest’s heart and atoned for the sin of perverted judgment, since false judgment can originate from improper impulses coming from a tainted heart (emotions and prejudice).
4) APRON (CAPE) – “EPHOD”: (Exodus, Chapter 28, vs. 6 – 12),
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says:“There are several opinions as to how the ephod was made. Some say that the ephod was essentially like a half-cape. Others agree that it was a long garment, but say that it was more like a skirt, from the waist to the heels, covering the high priest in front and back. Still others also agree that it was long, but maintain that it
was much simpler in construction. They see it as a kind of cape made of a single rectangular piece of cloth, draped over the shoulders like a large ‘Talit’, there are, however, a number of authorities who maintain that it was not a long garment at all, but rather like a vest with a belt around its lower edge, tied in front. Others see it as a kind of backwards vest.” 
The “EPHOD” – APRON / ROBE, atoned for the transgression of idol worship, as idol worshippers used to wear apron-like robes as described in the book of Judges: “… ‘Did you know that in these buildings there are an ‘EPHOD’ and icons, a carved image and molten image?’” (Judges, Chapter 18, verse 14).
5) MANTLE (ROBE) – “ME`IL”: (Exodus, Chapter 28, vs. 31 – 35).
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says: “Some say that it had sleeves, while others maintain that it was sleeveless. According to many it was a closed robe that was slipped over the head. It was woven as a single garment without seams and had an opening parted along the chest and back for the head. Others say that it was a simple robe, open down the front. Others, however, maintained that it was open in front like a large sleeveless cape, and only closed at the neck. According to another opinion it was a long rectangular piece of cloth with a hole in the middle for the head, very much like a long ‘Talit Kattan’. According to some, it hung in front and back, while others maintain that it hung on both sides. It came down to the priest's feet.” 
A fascinating feature of the MANTLE – “ME`IL” is that the Torah says that around its hem it should have little BELLS!: “You shall make on its hem [tiny] pomegranates of turquoise…on its hem all around, and GOLD BELLS BETWEEN THEM, all around. It must be on Aaron in order to minister. Its SOUND shall be heard when he enters the SANCTUARY before God and when he leaves, so that he not die.” (Exodus, Chapter 28, vs. 33 – 35).
The MANTLE – “ME`IL” with its little jingling bells (A POSITIVE BLESSED SOUND) ATONED FOR PUBLIC SLANDER (A NEGATIVE SOUND), for “LASHON HARA” – “EVIL SPEECH” spoken in public, as Rabbi Hanina said: “Let an article of sound come and atone for an offence of sound”.
6) KNITTED TUNIC / COAT / SHIRT – “KETONET TASHBETZ”: “Knit the tunic out of linen” (Exodus, Chapter 28, verse 4 & verse 39).
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says it had a “patterned weave that could best be attained by knitting. Some write that it had a pattern of depressions, like settings for precious stones. Others say that it was a diamond-shaped pattern, like an array of small eyes. According to another opinion, it was a hexagonal pattern, like a honeycomb. It had arm-length sleeves that were made separately and sewn on. It sat close to the body, and came down to the feet. The sleeves were tied at the wrists.” 
The sages of the Talmud teach that this “KETONET” atoned for MURDERS that were not punishable by a Jewish Court of Law – “BEIT DIN”, because of the absence of two witnesses. If such an event took place all of Israel were liable in God’s eyes as it were. The “KETONET” was chosen to atone for the sin of this “guilt” since its states in Genesis that Joseph’s brothers dipped HIS SHIRT - “KETONET” into goat’s blood to fool their father Jacob into believing that he had been killed. (Genesis, Chapter 37, verse 31).
7) BELT / SASH – “AVNET”: “An embroidered sash” (Exodus, Chapter 28, vs. 4 & 39 – 40) Sketch: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/31.htm Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says: “This is described as being 3 fingerbreadths (2 1/4') wide and 32 cubits (48') long. Some say that it went twice around the body. It was made of linen embroidered with colored wool. Although this is normally forbidden (Leviticus, Chapter 19, verse 19), it was permitted for the priestly garments. Josephus describes the sash as being worn over the heart, slightly above the elbows. It was four fingers wide and loosely woven, so that it appeared like the skin of a snake. Its main body was linen, and it was embroidered with a floral design of linen and blue, dark-red and crimson wool. When it was worn, its ends were allowed to hang down to the ankles, except during the service, when the ends were thrown over the left shoulder.” 
The “AVNET” was worn over the heart and therefore atoned for improper thoughts of the heart. This has also probably been the source for the custom that some Jews have of wearing a “GARTEL”, which mean “BELT” in Yiddish, when they pray as a sign of placing a barrier between the heart and any impure thoughts (“ERVA”).
8) LINEN PANTS / BREECHES – “MICHNESEI VAD”: “Also make linen pants to cover their nakedness, reaching from their waste to their thighs.” (Exodus, Chapter 28, verse 42). The PANTS are not really seen at this sketch: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/26.htm Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says that “these were closed pants, reaching from the waist to the knees. They had laces around the knees where they could be tied. Others, however, maintain that it was tied at the waist. The common priest thus had a total of four vestments, and the High Priest eight (Rashi).” 
Rabbi Inyani Bar Sason in the Talmud says: “the breeches ATONED FOR LEWDNESS, as it is said: ‘…Make LINEN PANTS – ‘MICHNESEI VAD’, TO COVER THEIR NAKEDNESS / NAKED FLESH – ‘B`SAR ERVAH’.(Exodus, Chapter 28, verse 42).”
Have a wonderful Shabbat and a happy Purim.
Best wishes, and please let me know what you think.
 The Living Torah, English translation, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, pp. 7 – 17.
 The Midrash Rabbah - Esther, English translation and commentary, pp. 123 – 126.
 The Midrash Says, Book of Sh`mos, Exodus, pp. 280 - 282.
 The Living Torah, Ibid., pp. 421 – 427.
 “Ephod”, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=2&CHAPTER=28#C1657
 “Me`il”, Ibid.,
 “Ketonet Tashbetz”, Ibid.,
 “Avnet”, Ibid.,
 “Michnesei Vad”, Ibid.,