My sister, Chaya, is kind, generous, fun and very into aesthetics. A favorite memory of ours was when my parents were commissioning the writing of a Torah scroll. My mom excitedly said to us, let’s talk about the Hachnasat Sefer Torah – the ceremony of the community welcoming the new Torah scroll and escorting it to the synagogue. My teenage sister’s immediate response: “Yes!! What are we wearing?”
My mom, of course, meant what a special spiritual merit the family was about to experience, not us flaunting our latest purchases. Since this event, we haven’t let my sister forget this incident. Whenever there’s a need to plan an important event, one of us will joke, “Yes!! What are we wearing?”
With the fashion industry being a $1.2 trillion global industry and with $250 billion spent annually on fashion in the U.S. alone, clearly what we’re wearing is kind of a big deal!
I certainly know this first hand. Although I don’t consider myself a materialistic person, I do spend a lot of time and mental energy on what I’m wearing. I’m not into designer or expensive clothing but I want to look good. As an active community leader and face of an organization, Aish Minnesota, I am invited to countless fundraisers, events, parties, b’nei mitzvot and weddings.
As I was acclimating to my role in the community, I was at first unfamiliar with the appropriate attire for each event. I would mildly obsess over my clothing. From dressy, business casual to casual, I had trouble keeping it all straight. I’d text friends “what are you wearing?” I didn’t want to be overdressed, didn’t want to be underdressed, I wanted to nail it. The most stressful of all, was our yearly annual benefit because it was our organization’s event. I almost felt like the mother of the bar mitzvah boy each year. I’d make my friends so crazy they’d say stop talking about this and take whatever you want from my closet and move on! Of course, this wouldn’t simplify things, it would only complicate my life with more options which would inevitably lead to pictures being sent to…my sister. To which she would joke, “Oh I forgot it’s the season of your annual photo shoot in your friend’s bathroom.”
And then I start to doubt myself. Can this immense effort and obsession over externals be justified? Yes, yes it can. And then I start to rationalize to myself: After all the first thing people see when they meet us before getting to know our inner essence is our outer appearance. Studies show that people who present well get better customer service and close more deals. I know I sometimes mistakenly make assumptions about others based on externals.
The other voice debates, no it cannot be justified to spend this much time and effort on my wardrobe.
I believe that our clothing can misrepresent us, like a traitor, in Hebrew a bogeid. And that is where the Hebrew word begadim – clothing – originated from. Sometimes our wardrobe choices don’t truly represent who we are.
How can it be okay to spend such a huge amount of time, money and mental energy on the superficiality of what we are placing on our bodies? Our bodies are temporary, an eighty, ninety, one hundred or maybe even a one hundred and twenty-year loaner home. A temporary house for our Godly souls that will last for eternity. After 120 years the two disparate forces of body and soul will part ways. The family will call the Chevra Kadisha, burial society, who will silently and respectfully begin preparing the body for Jewish burial. They will perform a physical washing, a spiritual washing and then dress the body in the tachrichim, burial shrouds. Simple, white linen burial shrouds. Why white shrouds? White like the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). White like we wear on Yom Kippur, for the soul is about to experience its ultimate Yom Kippur. Pockets? No. You can’t take anything with you. From the top of the financial and social ladder to the bottom and everything in between we all look the same. The soul hovers as the soulless body meets the earth. From earth, we were created and to earth, we return. The soul slowly ascends. Thankfully, during its lifetime it was not only focused on clothing, but it also exerted effort in spiritual pursuits. Those merits will properly attire the soul for its ultimate appointment with its Maker.
Although we may allocate time trying to present ourselves in the way that makes us most physically attractive, perhaps time is better-invested clothing ourselves in the merits we take with us to the world to come. Because in the end the question “What are we wearing?” is stripped away.