Parshat Tetzaveh continues with the instructions for the creation of the Tabernacle that would be the center of spiritual service for the Jewish people in the desert. Moshe and the Jewish people are instructed to make special clothing for the Kohen, the priest and additional clothing for the Kohen Gadol, the high priest to wear when performing the service.
While one might think that this clothing was just a very stylish way for the priests to perform their service, our Sages teach us that, like the Sacrifices and other aspects of the service, these clothing were in fact part of the process of atoning for the sins of the Jewish nation. Sins like idol worship, murder, immorality, dishonesty in business and haughtiness were all included in the sins that would rely on these special clothing for their final atonement.
One might wonder how clothing is connected with sin, and why should it play a role in the atonement for these very serious crimes.
Additionally, we find that every year this week’s Torah portion immediately precedes the holiday of Purim, a holiday which seems to center around clothing. Clothing seems to play an important role in The Book of Esther, which makes several mentions of the outfits of the characters. And, of course, there is the age old custom of dressing up in a disguise on Purim. The connection between the “Torah portion of clothing” and the “holiday of clothing” is certainly not a coincidence.
The role of clothing for humanity is certainly quite profound. On the most basic level, one might say that the purpose of clothing is concealment, as the primary function of clothes is to cover up the nakedness of man. However, when we consider this further, we find that in fact clothing has a very strong power of revelation as well. It is through our clothes that we tell the world what we want them to think about us. Our clothing might be our way of giving off the impression that we are more conservative or more free spirited, organized or care free, religious or secular, etc. It might tell the world about our profession, the sports team we follow, the movies we like or our opinions about important social issues. A naked person can express none of this. Their only expression is their lack of clothing and what that might say about them. Through our clothes we can allow the world to view us in way that either accurately describes attributes of ours, or fools the world into thinking things about us that might not be true.
But the power of clothing goes, yet, even deeper. More than just giving us the power to expresss a certain part of our personality to others, it is through our clothing that we might actually tap in to that energy and bring it alive. Casual dress brings about our casual side. We might feel more confident when we are wearing our more refined clothes and act sillier when we are dressed down.
This last point will helps us answer our original question. Clothing brings about atonement for sin, because most sins are an expression of some inner desire or trait that was brought out in to the world in an inappropriate way. And, in all likelihood, the sinners lack of ability to keep those traits inside of him comes from how he is expressing himself to the world. The Kohen Gadol’s clothing is a message to the sinner that he needs a “change of clothing” i.e. a change of how he expresses himself to the world. What are the external factors in his life that are causing him to act this way? How can he project those inner traits in a way that is more appropriate to living with holiness?
And it is this duality of clothing, the power to conceal and to reveal, to express or to fool, that is the underlying message of Purim. Our Sages often use clothing as a metaphor for events that happen in this world. Just like clothing, many world events, or events in our life, have this same duality. They can be used to conceal God’s presence or reveal, depending on how you look at it. They can be God’s way of fooling us or Gods way of expressing himself to us, and we need tohave sharp eye to decipher the true meaning behind those events. The Purim story had all of the ingredients of being absolute concealment of Hashem. The Book of Esther is the only book without God’s name. But by the time we finish reading this story of concealment, we are shocked to discover that it is in fact the greatest story of revelation.
The words Megilas Esther can be translated as “The Book of Esther” but it has an alternative meaning as well. Megilah is similar to the word migaleh which means to reveal. The word Esther is derived from the word hester which means concealment. Hence the alternative meaning of the words Megilas Esther, are in fact a description of God’s actions in this world, as well as the function of clothing: The Revelation that comes about through Concealment.