We’ve all heard it: “The clothes make the man (person).” But do they? Should they? I often wonder about this. Seriously wonder. On the one hand, there are social norms for what people are supposed to wear at certain times and for certain occasions. On the other hand, do the clothes you wear change who you are at your core? Can you wear pajamas to school? A prom dress to the beach?
On Yom Kippur I was wearing ankle pants, heels, and a “dressy” t-shirt under my white robe during services. After I led the discussion session in between services, someone commented that they LOVED knowing this was my outfit under that robe. It wasn’t creepy (comments about clothes often are) - there was a genuine joy this person got knowing that I was dressed “down”. I don’t think I had actually considered it dressing “down”. Getting dressed in the morning I knew I would be covered by a robe, and I knew it was going to be a warm day!
But there is definitely an expectation that a rabbi dress a certain way. Perhaps exactly because of this week’s portion, Tetzaveh, where we get ALL the details about what the Aaron and the priests should wear while working in the Temple (including a robe). But in today’s environment, I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that way is! Here’s why: I try to live my life in a way that my actions speak louder than my words; that the things I do, the ways I treat people and the earth, are things and ways I can be proud of and that maybe other people will want to emulate. I try always to be a positive influence on others and have a positive impact on the world. My ultimate goal in life is that I should leave the world better than how I got it (whether that’s by making an impact on many or an impact on just one person). And the bottom line is that I believe I can be that positive influence and make that positive impact wearing ankle pants and a t-shirt just as effectively as I can wearing a robe. Maybe more effectively sometimes.
So, do my clothes define me? I hope not. I hope it is my actions and the way I interact with others and the world around me. Will I be wearing shorts to services on Friday? Of course not! But if I did, I genuinely believe the service would still be a positive and meaningful experience because of the energy and attention I put into making it so. (Also, it will be too cold for shorts tomorrow!)