Tetzaveh: Your Mother Was Right – Clothes Do Make The Man

imagesWho doesn’t remember fighting at times with our parents over their clothing choices for us? I still remember being forced to wear an unlined wool dress that scratched with every move of a muscle and felt like sackcloth against my skin. A child’s only defense is to grow out of such clothes as quickly as possible, or find a way to make sure the garment meets a premature death.

As we got older, there was the pressure to “dress for success”, although we weren’t always sure whose idea of success or image we were even dressing for. Part of this cultural view is the oft-stated idiom: “Clothes make the man.” But we bristled at the idea of a shallow society unable to see us for whom we were (slobs) and our true value (free-loaders), and we didn’t want to buy into creating an external reality via the perceptions of others. (You can tell which decade I grew up in.)

This week’s Torah Portion, “Tetzaveh,” deals almost exclusively with the elaborate clothing and the intricate and ornate vestments that Aaron, the High Priest, wore when he entered the Tabernacle to perform the Temple Service. Without this regal and distinctive garb, Aaron could not perform his service. I can just hear Aaron’s mother yelling, “Aaron, put your priestly robes on already. And don’t argue with me. Let’s go – God’s waiting!”

Is this nothing more than “clothes make the High Priest”? Some commentators state that the purpose of the vestments was for the Jewish people to recognize the unique and spiritual stature of the High Priest. That suggests that our teenage angst was justified, and it’s all about other peoples’ perceptions and external reality. But that would be a very superficial interpretation. What if the outer garments we wear could affect us on an internal level, which in turn can create a new external reality? So which is it – external or internal reality?

Putting On The Sandals

The Torah describes the vestments as being for the “splendor and glory” of Aaron. You may think that these two words mean basically the same thing, but in this case, they don’t. “Glory” refers to our God-given qualities, our innate strengths, and gifts. “Splendor,” on the other hand, refers to what we do with them.  

There is a saying that our life is a gift to God, but that what we do with our lives is our gift back to God. In order to make that remotely meaningful, we have to understand the exalted essence of a human being. That’s a challenge at any time, but put yourself in Aaron’s shoes – or sandals – for a moment. One day, he’s a slave in Egypt; the next, he’s the High Priest serving on behalf of the entire Jewish nation. That’s a mind-blowing colossal shift. How could he possibly have felt worthy and up to the task?

Fake It ’til You Make It

We usually think that attitude drives behavior. That makes sense. After all, we see how our actions flow from our beliefs and thoughts. Torah tells us that the reverse is just as true, if not more so, and now, with Positive Psychology research validating Torah wisdom with Daryl Bem’s “Self-Perception Theory,” we have evidence-based science showing that behavior does in fact, more effectively drives attitude. An oft-repeated idea in Judaism is “fake it ‘til you make it.” A deeper idea is “fake it ‘til you become it”, and deeper still, is “fake it ‘til you reveal what is already there.”

For Aaron to assume his role and serve the Jewish people, he needed to feel worthy, to understand his inherent royal nature, and the holy vestments were vehicles to get to that truth. Interestingly, nothing could serve as a barrier – not even so much as a bandage – between Aaron’s body and his vestments. This prohibition is meant to teach us that the physical (and emotional) impediments we place between holiness and ourselves and between God and us are foreign objects that don’t belong there.

Tapping Into Glory

We are all glorious. We all have God-given qualities, unique strengths and talents. But unless we know that they are there, we can’t tap into them. Unless we know who we are, we can’t comprehend our mission and begin to actualize our potential.

May we all use the lesson of “Tetzaveh” to clothe ourselves in new behaviors and new ways of being, to remove barriers and create a new internal reality sourced in our “glorious” essence so that we can reveal a new external reality and create the “splendid” life that we are meant to live.  So you may as well start fakin’ it – you have nothing to lose.

Questions To Ponder:

Are feelings of unworthiness, or the fear that you’re not “up to the task,” holding you back in your life, whether in your career, relationship, or personal growth?

If you could imagine your life as the gift you want to give to God, what would you life look like?

What would you be doing differently?

If you could take on one new behavior to try on to “fake it till you reveal it,” what would it be?

Hanna Perlberger, a long-time divorce attorney, now practices as a Divorce Coach, supporting clients in accessing their best selves to make optimal decisions that will create a better future for themselves and their families – before, during and post divorce. www.doitbetterdivorce.com.  Otherwise, she is writing about the intersection of Positive Psychology with the realm of the Sacred.