Sharing Torah Insights

Judging a book by its cover

Posted on י״ב באדר ה׳תש״ע (February 26, 2010) | in Purim, Rosh Hashanah, Tetzaveh, Tu B'Av, Yom Kippur | by

Contrary to common belief and practice, there are very few instances where Judaism actually cares about what clothing you wear. This weekend we will experience two out of the four such instances. These are: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when we wear white; Tu B’Av, when single girls borrow each others’ dresses; Purim, when we wear costumes; and finally the clothes the Kohanim wore in the Beit haMikdash, which we read about in this week’s Parsha.

What is the meaning behind these four situations where clothing is important?

Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch talks about the importance of the Bigdei Kehuna. He explains that when the Kohanim were doing the service in the Temple, they had to think of themselves as messengers of the congregation of Israel. They had to realize that they should have no ego involved in the service and were, on their own account, naked in front of Hashem.

This is in contrast to the High Holidays where we are being judged on account of our own actions. On those days we wear our own white clothing, working to cleanse ourselves of our personal actions.

On Tu B’Av, once again, people dress in clothing that doesn’t belong to them. The custom used to be that single girls would all wear borrowed dresses and go dance in the fields to find their future husbands. The borrowed clothing ensured that poorer people weren’t disadvantaged by their lower quality clothing. In this case, clothing is used as a means of expressing care and compassion towards others, ensuring that no one is disadvantaged by class differences.

Finally, we come to Purim. On Purim, we wear costumes, disguising our actual appearances. Why is this? One of the central lessons of Purim is that the reason the Jewish people were saved is because we banded together as a community and davened to Hashem to save us from Haman’s plots. While the story played out in such a way that Esther was the means to our salvation, Mordechai warned Esther that if she didn’t do what she could to save the Jews, HaShem would still save the Jewish people as a whole, but would not extend that salvation to Esther and her family (כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת–רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר, וְאַתְּ וּבֵית-אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ Esther 4:14).

On Purim, therefore, we disguise ourselves to show that it’s not the individual but the community that is important. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what type of Yarmulke or what color pants you wear. What’s important is that we are all Jews and we are all celebrating Purim together.

Have a great Shabbat and a Happy Purim!

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2 Responses to “Judging a book by its cover”

  1. ZevAbe says:

    Those are not the only instances where halakha speaks to how one should be attired. There is appropriate and inappropriate clothing for tefilla. There is a prohibition on wool and linen mixed. And while modesty covers a broad range of things and not only clothing, clothing is among the issues addressed there.


    Liron Kopinsky Reply:

    I agree that halacha covers many areas of clothing that cannot be worn – like shaatnez and un-tznius clothing. That’s not really what I was talking about here though :).

    One additional time where clothing is mandated that I missed is Shabbat, where we are obligated to differentiate from our weekday clothing by wearing nicer clothes than we normally do. In this case the clothing servers as a personal reminder that we are experiencing a holy time. Are there others that I missed as well?


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