Rabbanit Karen Miller Jackson is in the second cohort of the Kitvuni Fellowship. She is writing a commentary on the first half of Talmud Berakhot. She is a graduate of the Morot L’Halakha Program at Matan HaSharon and a lecturer at Matan. Karen has an MA in Rabbinic Literature from NYU. She is the creator of the #PowerParsha and the founder of Kivun l’Sherut, a pre-army/sherut leumi guidance program for religious girls. Karen is also a podcast host and lectures at a number of women’s Torah institutes.
The Edythe Benjamin חיה בת שלמה beloved mother of Barbara Hanus Rosh Chodesh Torah Essay
Today we begin an unusual month in the Jewish calendar. Being a leap year, we will only celebrate Purim in Adar II. However, the Talmud acknowledges that the 14th and 15th of Adar I hold significance too and have become known as Purim and Shushan Purim Katan (a minor Purim and Shushan Purim).
Purim Katan this year coincides with parshat Tetzaveh and the two share a common theme – an emphasis on clothing. The holiday of Purim is about hiddenness, disguise and masquerade, which are usually associated with frivolity. However, the Sages of the Talmud and midrash demonstrate that clothing – in the megilla and Tanach in general – is more than just an external aesthetic. It is a catalyst for, and a window into, the spiritual state of a person.
In megillat Esther, Mordechai’s clothing is symbolic of the status and fate of the Jewish people in Persia. After Haman issues the decree to annihilate the Jews of Persia, Mordechai tears his clothing and puts on sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1). This contrasts with Mordechai at the end of the megilla who is dressed in “kingly robes,” once the Jews safety has been assured (Esther 8:15). Conversely, Esther is out of touch with her people and the physical and spiritual threat they face when she sends Mordechai clothing in an attempt to remove his sackcloth. Yet, when she embraces her role as savior of the Jews of Persia, she puts on queenly robes. The Sages see this change of clothes as a shift in her spiritual state:
“And it came to pass on the third day and Esther wore queenliness” – It should have stated “Queenly clothing.” Rather – she wore Divine providence…
Conversely, the first depiction of nakedness, or a lack of clothing in Tanakh, occurs in reaction to sin. Adam and Eve eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge and they suddenly become aware of their nakedness. Rashi suggests that this description of their external state was really an indication of their internal, spiritual state. The verse states, “And the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked.” (Bereshit 3:7) Rashi, based on the midrash, comments:
And they knew that they were naked — Even a blind person knows when he is naked! What then does “and they knew that they were naked” signify? One commandment had been entrusted to them and they now knew they had stripped themselves of it.
They immediately cover themselves with a fig leaf. Nakedness is interpreted as a sign of lacking good deeds, of shame and vulnerability. But the first real act of clothing is done by God for Adam and Eve. God dresses them in kotnot or (garments of skin), before banishing them from Gan Eden. There is a midrashic tradition which teaches that these garments have a long afterlife. These garments had the power to influence those who wear them and others in their orbit negatively or positively. In one version they were handed down to Noah and his sons, to the evil Nimrod and to Esau. They were used to wield power and authority. In a more positive version, the ketonet given to Adam were the garments of the high priest which were passed down to Noah and the patriarchs.
So far we have seen from the story of Adam and Eve that nakedness symbolizes a lack – of faith or good deeds. Whereas clothing can have an effect on the person wearing them and others around them. The types of clothing in megillat Esther are representative of a character’s inner spiritual state – grieving, hiding one’s identity or pride and empowered leadership. One more aspect of the significance of clothing in Tanach can be learned, surprisingly, from the clothing of the kohanim.
Parshat Tetzaveh places an unusual emphasis on clothing. The Torah prescribes elaborate dress for the kohanim and particularly the kohen gadol: “And you should make holy clothing for your brother Aaron for honor and beauty…. a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash…” (Shemot 28:2-4) Given that the kohen arguably holds the holiest position in Judaism, Why is there so much detail given about his clothing? His role is to be a leader and representative of the Israel in serving God, why so much emphasis on material things?! The midrash adds another facet to the role of clothing in Tanach:
Rabbi Simon says, just as the sacrifices atone so too does the clothing atone.
Here, putting on holy clothing can impact the state and success of the kohen and it should help him fulfill his role as representing the people of Israel.
Part of the kohen’s service includes a ritual of taking off his clothing and putting on new clothing, particularly during the taking up of the ashes (Vaykira 6:3-4). In this context, the under-robe is called “middo bad,” a linen robe. The word middo is understood by the Sages to mean custom-fitted to the kohen (from the Hebrew root m.d.d). This word is also related to the Hebrew word for uniform – maddim. The kohanim had their uniform and were expected to live up to the holy task which is associated with their attire. Here, the clothing is meant to be a catalyst for the priests to be constantly mindful and spiritually inspire themselves and the people of Israel.
As I write this I can’t help but think about another kind of maddim or uniform – that of our holy chayalim and chayalot.
From the moment they were called to duty, they donned their maddim with unbelievable motivation and pride. Their clothing has certainly reflected their inner spiritual state and has positively influenced themselves and others. They have raised the morale of the entire Jewish people and are a symbol of our strength and optimism.
May the memory of those who we have lost be for a blessing and may Hashem heal those who have been injured and continue to give them all strength and protection. May it be a chodesh tov for our soldiers and for all Am Yisrael.
 Talmud Bavli Megilla 6b.
 Talmud Bavli Megilla 14b.
 Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer chapter 24.
 Midrash Tanhuma (Buber) Toledot 12.
 Vayikra Rabbah 10:6.