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You Are What You Wear -- Chronicle Online/The WORD 02/22/24

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah

February 22, 202

13 Adar 5784

Shushan Purim Katan

Parashat Tetzaveh

I’m old enough to remember having to dress up to travel by airplane. I have a very specific memory of a tan leisure suit that my parents made me wear to fly to Florida. Given all the videos of people putting their bare feet all over airplane seats, perhaps the old ways were not so crazy after all!

We may not dress up to travel anymore. In fact, since COVID, most of us don’t dress up at all anymore! However, there are still some moments when our clothing sends a message. Sometimes, it is something simple like where we went to college or what sports team we root for. Sometimes, it reflects a cause that is important to us, like gun legislation or environmentalism.

In the Torah, the priestly vestments—as described in this week’s Torah portion—were clearly intended to send a message. The ornate outfits worn by Aaron and his sons gave them appearance of leaders who were close to God. These special uniforms were called “בִגְדֵי־קֹ֖דֶשׁ” (bigdei koshesh)—sacred garments, sacral vestments, or clothes of holiness.  

One can only imagine how these clothes were perceived by everyday Israelites. They sent a strong signal of holiness to all who saw them.

Today, we also try to send signals through the items we wear, but perhaps we are a bit more subtle. Since October 7, many Jews have started wearing Jewish star or ‘chai’ necklaces to declare their Jewishness and support of Israel. Some of us have been wearing blue ribbons to call attention to the hostages being held in Gaza. At some point in Israel, they switched to yellow ribbons. Others have been wearing a small blue square pin that is part of the “Stand Up to Jewish Hate” campaign.  

In Israel, Rachel Goldberg-Polin—who is the mother of one of the remaining hostages—started a new way of sending a message through what we wear. Each day, she puts a piece of masking tape on her clothing with a number. It is the number of days that her son Hersh has been in captivity. Today is Day #139. It pains me every time I see her.

When we wear these items, it makes it harder for others to forget what is going on in Israel and Gaza. It makes it harder for others to forget that there has been a historically significant spike in antisemitism the last few months. I wish we didn’t have to send that message, but unfortunately, it’s important that we do. 


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