“Make sacral vestments for your brother Aaron, for dignity and adornment.”  (Exodus 28:2)

            For more than two years during Covid, twice a day, I conducted a daily service (minyan) on Zoom.  I set up my computer in my dining room, which became my office.  I hear about people who go on Zoom for work in shorts or pajama bottoms.  For every service, although online, I wore a collared shirt and slacks.  On Shabbat I also wore a jacket and tie, even to sit in front of the computer.

            Why bother?  The reason is my belief that our clothing makes a statement.  I felt that to appear before God and my community in a tee shirt and shorts, although tempting, is disrespectful.  I believe we need to dress for the occasion.  I am aware that we are becoming far more informal about how we dress.  I remember the day when people dressed up to go on airplanes.  Those days are gone forever.  But synagogue, even synagogue online, is a different matter.

            Whenever I reach this Torah portion, I like to think about clothing.  The first half of the portion deals with the making of sacred vestments for Aaron and his sons.  The clothing was described in great detail – a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash.  They were to be made by the skilled seamstresses.  The robe had tiny bells along the fringe which sounded whenever Aaron walked into the Holy places.  The clothing became a symbol of respect.

            Recently I watched a trial on the news and thought about the judge wearing a robe.  I realized that the robe gave her authority in keeping with her role.  Clothes have powerful symbolic value.  That is why we ask police and military to wear uniforms.  Clothes also help create a sense of community and team spirit.  There is a reason why sports teams wear matching uniforms.  And as anybody who has ever been a bridesmaid can testify, there is a reason why young ladies wear those matching dresses.  (I smile at the 2008 movie 27 Dresses, where Katherine Heigl had bridesmaid dresses from 27 weddings.)

            This portion is often read on the Shabbat before Purim.  (Purim begins Monday night this year.)  Clothing takes a major role in the story of Esther.  For example, when King Ahasuerus wants to honor Mordecai, at Haman’s suggestion, he has him pulled through the town on a royal steed wearing the king’s clothing and the king’s crown.  Haman thinks the honor is meant for him, and is furious when he finds it is meant for his Jewish enemy Mordecai.  In another point in the story, Mordecai puts on sack cloth in mourning over Haman’s threat to the Jewish community.  And of course, on Purim we wear masks and costumes, often dressing like who we want to be, not who we are.  (That is why so many children wear superhero costumes.)

            Since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves, clothing makes a statement.  It symbolizes the importance of the occasion.  What I wear to the gym, to hang out at home, to go to synagogue, and to perform a wedding are influenced by the occasion.  It is a well-known canard that workers should dress for the job they want, not the job they have.   I am amazed that it is possible to buy jeans that have  already been pre-ripped so that the young people who wear them do not need to tear them.  But ripped jeans make a statement.

            We have certainly become more informal today about the clothes we wear.  Many businesses have dress down Fridays.  The tech sector, with so many young people, have dress down daily.  But I still believe clothes make a statement.  What we wear says something about us.  Our clothing presents us to the world in a certain way.  Perhaps the message of Aaron and his sons, and the message of Purim, is to think about, what statement do we want to make with the clothes that we wear.