originally posted in the Israel Religious Action Center weekly newletter - The Pluralist
The clothing worn by the High Priest forms an ensemble of the highest quality materials, colors, and embellishment. Hand tailored of the finest organic wool and linen dyed blue, purple, and crimson, with gold and semi-precious stones for the coordinating accessories, including the bells at the hem. Ibn Ezra, the medieval Spanish commentator, notes that it is one of a kind, that no other Israelite wears anything similar.
Form follows function. The clothes are explicitly for the splendor and adornment of the High Priest. J.H. Hertz, in his commentary, offers an alternate translation: “for splendor and distinction.” Nachum Sarna stresses that the outfit “befits the exalted office. Maimonides points out that this attire was worn not for the self-glorification of the High Priest but solely because it was divinely commanded.” Everett Fox suggests that language “enables one to see in the priest’s garb a reflection of the divine splendor.”
When we choose what to wear we take into consideration the planned events of the day and different aspects of our lives. We choose our clothing for comfort, for the weather, to reaffirm or assert our identity, to blend in or to stand out. Our choices make a statement. That statement might not be splendor and adornment, but our selections create an impression.
What happens when we look deeper into the origins of what we wear? Our clothing is not made by automatons, it is sewn by people. When we purchase the clothes we wear, that our children wear, do we consider how it was made? If the people who are sewing our clothes receive a pittance each day, if they can barely live on the wages that they earn making garments that we see as disposable, does that undermine the statement, the impression we wish to create as we dress each morning?
The materials that go into our clothing can have different effects on the environment. Growing cotton can require intensive use of water, pesticides, and herbicides. The manufacture of nylon, polyester, and rayon can require the use of harsh chemicals. Wearing a shirt with a statement about saving the world doesn’t ring true when the creation of that shirt does the opposite.
We do not wear the garb of the High Priest, or even what the Levites would have worn when they served in the Mishkan, the Wilderness Tabernacle. But we can choose our clothing to make a statement about preserving the environment and providing a decent living for the workers who clothe us. And then we will be serving God with our adornment.