Is focusing on clothing superficial?

The Hebrew word for garment is beged, which contains the same letters as the word for betrayal, bagad. Since the beginning of history, the garment has been intertwined with betrayal. The Torah tells us that garments became necessary only after the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, when Adam and Eve betrayed their G‑d, themselves and their innocence.

In addition to their emergence as a result of betrayal, the function of garments is also a form of betrayal and dishonesty. The very purpose of a garment is to conceal the inner core and portray an external facade. In fact, a rich person can dress as a pauper, and the pauper can dress as a rich person; a person who feels sad can dress in celebratory garments, and a happy person can don a mourner’s garments, thus betraying the truth and projecting an external image inconsistent with one’s inner feelings and reality.

Like the body, the soul too has “garments.” The Kabbalah teaches that the soul has an inner “personality,” its emotional and intellectual composition, as well as “garments,” its ability to act, to speak and to think a given thought. Thought, speech and action are called garments because they are not the soul itself and, like the body’s garments, they can betray the inner makeup of the soul. A person can act, speak or think in ways that are inconsistent with and betray his inner self.

Yet, garments, and the betrayal they represent, are not all bad. In fact, another word for garment in Hebrew is salmah, which is spelled the same as shelaimah, “complete.” The Hebrew language is conveying a deep truth: the garment, the ability to betray one’s inner feelings and perspective, can and should lead a person to be wholesome and complete. That’s because garments influence how we feel on the inside. The reason people spend so much on clothing is because clothing have an effect. Although initially donning clothing is an external act, the garment has the power to influence one’s mood and feelings.

The same is true regarding the garments of the soul. A person can feel cruel, yet he can don a garment of kindness by taking a kind action. A person can feel sad, yet he can smile and act happy. Initially, that action is a betrayal of the inner feelings, but, over time, the betrayal leads to completion. The external action will affect the inner feeling.

This explains why the Torah commands that the High Priest wear eight beautiful garments when he performs the service in the Temple. As G‑d commands Moses in this week’s portion:

“You shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory.”

One may wonder why garments are critical to the service. Aren’t beautiful garments superficial and a symbol of vanity? Why doesn't G‑d focus on the priests’ internal, emotional and spiritual state rather than on the external garments? The answer is that the garments represent thought, speech and action, the metaphorical garments of the soul. The Torah is teaching us that if we want to come close to G‑d, we should don beautiful garments. We should focus on positive garments, on positive action, even if those garments are a betrayal of our internal feelings. Because, ultimately, the beautiful garments, the positive action, will bring wholesomeness and completion to the internal soul.