Are you G-d’s gift to the world? You look beautiful, “sexy,” healthy, strong, fashionable and fit. What beautiful packaging. You certainly must be G-d’s gift to the world. You got it (whatever “it” is) and you flaunt it. But when we pull the ribbon and look beneath the eye-catching wrappings, what exactly do you have inside? We are a world so absorbed in appearances but the content is lacking. Pretend, G-d forbid, all the world was blind, would you still be G-d’s gift? If we are all driven into isolation by mandatory quarantines due to the ever-spreading Coronavirus and with no audiences to notice our biceps, our coffin-shaped manicures, our designer wear, who and what are we really? With your face covered by a medical mask and only your eyes showing, the windows to the soul, what would we see inside? A blank stare or a soul as deep and pure as the waters of G-d's Torah.
Most of us are always putting on a show—whether it’s out of arrogance or insecurity, only a therapist can know. Yes, it’s hard to admit because we like to think of ourselves as authentic individuals, as real people. But it's all a show. A perfect example of this point is basketball player LeBron James who just said he will not play in an empty stadium after the NBA warned teams to prepare for games without spectators due to the coronavirus crisis. Our life is all about audiences. But in truth, Hashem is the only real audience, the eternal Spectator who sees what we are when the curtains come down on the show and when there is no one left to applaud our "fabulousness." If we were to examine our lives with honesty, we’d soon recognize that we are all actors in the imaginary show we’ve created for ourselves. We are the stars and the moon and the sun. In those roles we can never be one with our neighbors or G-d. In the Tanya, the fundamental writings upon which Chabad teachings are based, we learn that an individual who focuses on the animal soul, i.e., the body's wants, can never love his neighbor as himself. For the animal soul, the one that craves constant attention and “nutriment,” albeit from artificial sweeteners, sees everyone as an enemy. “If we are a body, the other person always threatens us; if we are a soul, the other person always complements us.” (Rabbi Yehoshua B. Gordon, Z’L). It turns out that showing off and showing too much doesn’t make us G-d’s gift to mankind but its enemy. Yet, when we keep the commandments of the Torah we optimize all our relationships, with G-d, man, animals and all creation; when we make up our own convenient rules, we destroy the entire universe. The Coronavirus, as example, for the sake of timeliness, shows us how contagious we can be to one another from one end of the world to the other. What’s true in the physical world is true in the spiritual world. Good deeds beget good deeds; sin begets sin.
One of those sins is dressing immodestly. By doing so you are definitely no gift of G-d, just a toy of Satan, of the Angel of Death destroying yourself and the beholder. You provoke jealousy and lust. Whose husband are your trying to steal? Whose eyes are you trying to catch? With whom are you competing? Where will it all lead? If you want to be G-d’s gift, find the G-d in you and harness it. Let not the wrapping be more beautiful than the gift.
In this week’s Torah portion we learn how important our clothing and appearance are in interfacing with G-d and mankind. Funny how golf clubs, gyms, restaurants, schools, all have dress codes which we respect and yet, when it comes to religion and serving God, we think wardrobe doesn’t count. It does! In reading, Tetzaveh, we learn about the detailed description that God gives to Moses regarding the clothing of the Kohanim who were to serve in the Temple: “You shall make vestments of sanctity…for dignity and adornment.” (Shemot 28:2). The mystical reverberations of the priestly garments are beyond our comprehension, but the lesson they seek to teach is very understandable. God does care about our outfits. He was the first designer and was quick to make Adam and Eve clothes for modesty’s sake.
Through the years I’ve often heard people make fun of the Orthodox Jewish community and its fashion customs that vary from sect to sect. Laugh no longer because they are smarter than you and I when it comes to dressing for success—success in the eyes of the Almighty. We hide in hazmat suits not to get sick; they hide too, so their souls shouldn’t get sick by the dirty, depraved, lustful world we find ourselves in. Fashions may trend, but holy garbs mend. The outfits we wear have spiritual impact; they either subdue the animal soul and elevate our higher spirits or do just the opposite. Interesting how often the same people who mock the spiritual impact of clothing are the same ones sporting red string bracelets to ward off the evil eye, counterintuitively expressing that a whole outfit makes no difference to their well-being but a single thread can.
In the Torah, God says, “Do not ascend My altar by steps, that your nakedness may not be exposed upon it.” When reaching up to God, He demands modesty from men and women. Even the Kohanim, who by merit of their positions and other virtues had a close relationship with the Almighty, were specifically commanded regarding modesty. The Sages teach that what is covered is blessed and also what is truly treasured is hidden, not flaunted. Peel the fruit and it begins to rot.
Stop being so devoted to serving your body for it is not nearly as loyal to you. We shed over a million flakes of skin every hour and like a serpent within 2 to 4 weeks we too shed our entire skin. Within seven to 10 years we are an entirely new set of cells. The us that we cater to regularly abandons us on a regular basis. Going, going, gone. The body leaves us regardless of our opinion: We die and the worms eat us. But our soul lives on and too late we realize that that is our true gift from G-d, the gift we were meant to share. It gives us life and yet we treat the soul like a silent partner. We muffle its calling and instead feed the beast. But one day it will have a lot to say. So, perhaps my dear friends it's time to question, "What will your soul “look” like before G-d and the Heavenly Court when the beautiful wrapping is rotting in a dumpster?"