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DESIGNER CLOTHING

by Rabbi Yonason Goldson    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The clothes make the man- goes the familiar adage, and while we may have long ago stopped giving thought to aphorisms such as this, we may yet marvel at how the wisdom of the Torah has found its way into even our most common cultural clichés.

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The clothes make the man- goes the familiar adage, and while we may have long ago stopped giving thought to aphorisms such as this, we may yet marvel at how the wisdom of the Torah has found its way into even our most common cultural clichés.

Our sages tell us that the body of Adam, the first man, was made of fingernails. Just as we perceive a dual nature in our fingernails -- that they are part of us, growing out of our living bodies, and also separate from us, dead and unfeeling -- so too did Adam relate to his physical body as something apart from himself and divorced from his spiritual essence, yet essential to him in that it housed his ethereal soul. Indeed, Adam's body at the time of his creation might be best described as clothing with which he insulated his spiritual being from the physical world in which he lived.

Upon eating from the tree of knowledge and violating the command of his Creator, Adam changed his nature radically, causing a fusion of his spiritual essence with his physical body. For this reason the Torah reports that he knew he was naked and was ashamed; having been fashioned as a being of pure spirituality, he had corrupted his nature by introducing physicality into it; he had made the body that had merely clothed his soul an integral part of himself and was left standing before Hashem naked and ashamed.

The Torah's concern of tzniut, or modesty, pertains not so much to the issue of attraction or arousal as to the de-emphasizing of the physical nature of Man by concealing the external and thereby redirecting our focus towards the internal -- the spiritual and G-dlike nature that is the essence of every one of us. Every time we look upon our tzitzit (fringes) which the Torah commands us in this week's Torah portion to wear upon the four corners of our garments, we should recall that wherever we may go upon the four corners of Hashem's earth, we are obligated to conduct ourselves according to His will, this being the means through which we cling to our G-dlike nature and subjugate to it the physical, animal nature that ever seeks to assert itself.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a prominent leader of German Jewry in the 19th century, explains that the mitzvah of tzitzit immediately follows the narrative of the sin of the spies (please see summary for more details concerning the spies) since they erred in precisely the same manner as did Adam. Just as the spies pursued the impulses of their hearts and the impressions of their eyes, so had Adam erred in his judgment and his desire, allowing himself to stray from the true path and blunder into disaster. Just as he lost for himself and his descendants eternal life in Eden, so too did the spies lose for themselves and later generations the chance for eternal peace in the Land of Israel.

Even forty years later, when the next generation would enter the Land, their existence would be a perpetual struggle, just as Adam, by forsaking the perfection of his creation, had cast himself into turmoil. Thus explains the Maharal of Prague, the 16th century scholar and thinker, do the fringes that we wear symbolize that the nature of Man is incomplete, that we must all struggle with our imperfections in our unceasing quest to return ourselves and the world around us to the original glory of creation, which we should all merit to witness with the coming of the Moshiach (Messiah).

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Rabbi Yonason Goldson is a teacher at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta.

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