By Rabbi Amanda Golby
Very often, when it is not a leap year, Parashat Tetzaveh is read on Shabbat Zachor, and this year we know that Purim will begin when Shabbat goes out. Many possible themes present themselves, but, one is ‘clothing’. This morning we read of the special clothing given to the Cohanim, this evening we dress up. I remember that when I studied in Israel many years ago, our daily minyan had a Cohen, who, in accordance with Jerusalem practice, ‘duchaned’ each morning. His Purim costume was to dress as a High Priest.
We are told that all the priests are to wear four garments-linen breeches, tunics, sashes and turbans, In addition, Aaron, the High Priest, is to wear a special robe of pure blue decorated at the hem with pomegranates and golden bells. Over this robe, the ephod-an apron-like layer woven of gold, blue, purple and crimson-is to be worn, and further instructions are given. Indeed in Parashat Tetzaveh more than 40 verses are devoted to the ‘bigdei kodesh’, the ‘ritual’ garments for the High Priest, and it is very unusual for so much space to be devoted to a single topic. Moses is told that they should be made for Aaron his brother, ‘l’chavod u’l’tifaret’, for dignity and splendour.
In our time, it is the Sifrei Torah that ‘wear’ these garments, or a modification of them. Rabbis and cantors in general now wear the clothes of other Jews at prayer. Most younger people within our communities would be surprised to see their religious leaders wearing gowns, or indeed full ‘canonicals’, but this was familiar to earlier generations. When I first became a rabbi, there was an expectation that I would wear a gown, and, while in some ways I disliked it intensely, I was at the same time grateful for it. It was difficult enough being a woman rabbi, and wearing a gown reduced the focus on what I was wearing.
In last week’s portion Terumah, we were told that the Aron Kodesh, the ark, should be made of pure gold, inside and out, and commentators remind us that what is on the inside is as important as that which is visible. However we must ask if clothes really matter?
There are often discussions about Shul clothes. There was a time when no man would have gone to Shul without a tie. That is very different today. Attitudes have changed among very many with regard to women wearing trousers, again reflecting what happens in society as a whole. However, even if actual styles have changed, it is still appropriate to come to Shul dressed ‘hiddur mitzvah’, to honour the mitzvah, to show, for example, as part of our efforts to make Shabbat holy, we take extra care in our dress and behaviour.
So this morning we ideally come to Shul in such a way that shows we care about honouring Shabbat, though mindful, on Shabbat as at all times, that clothes are something for the outer person, and, like the Ark, we need to strive to make our inner world also reflect that ‘glory and beauty’, and that is surely a much harder task.
This evening, however, many will come to Shul dressed rather differently, reflecting the Purim minhag of fancy dress for which various reasons are given, and clearly Megillat Esther, like Parashat Tetzveh, has many references to clothing.
Shabbat is different to Purim. Special days are different to the ‘ordinary’. However at all times, we need also to be conscious of both our inner and outer lives, and do our best so that they match up in the best possible way.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim sameach.
Rabbi Amanda Golby provides rabbinic pastoral support at New North London Synagogue and has a special interest in areas of inclusivity relating to Judaism and illness ageing.