D’var Torah For Friday, September 9, 2022

For years, one of our guilty pleasures was TLC’s show “What not to Wear.” The premise behind the show was that the producers, with the help of certain accomplices secretly filmed a person whose wardrobe was a, to put it mildly, crime against fashion. A little later in the episode, this person was then approached by the two hosts of the show, Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, and given all sorts of fashion advice. They were also given a full makeover along with five thousand dollars to spend on a new wardrobe. Upon initial viewing, one would think that this was a very superficial form of reality entertainment. However, upon closer examination, the premise of the show really is about the concept of how one chooses to present themselves to the world will result in how they are perceived by others. As many of us learned when we were young, one shouldn’t judge a book by
its cover. But in practice, we do this all the time.

I was reflecting upon this when studying this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teztei. In it, it tells us the seemingly strange law of shatnez. This is the Toraiitic prohibition against mixing wool and linen in one’s clothing.

On the surface, the law of shatnez makes no sense, and is seemingly arbitrary. This is why so many in the Jewish world outside of traditional practice completely reject this law. However, for the ancient Israelites, the only people who were allowed to mix wool and linen in their clothing
were the priests. Therefore, this mixture of shatnez, most likely meant that the clothing could only be used for sacred purposes.

Priests could wear wool and linen as a symbol of their holy work, whereas the everyday Israelite was forbidden from the same practice. To put it another way, shatnez is a biblical version of “What not to Wear.” This means the very act of getting dressed, like the very act of eating, can
be elevated into a holy endeavor.

In today’s society, we hear the term “intentional” quite a bit. The idea is that we should strive to be more deliberate and more conscious in our acts and actions. It’s not that we should or shouldn’t mix wool and linen in our clothes, but instead we are being reminded to think about how we wish to present ourselves to the world as a potentially holy act. Even in today’s increasingly casual world, we can make holy choices, just like we do when we think about what we should be eating, and what we should be speaking.

As we struggle to figure out what fashion means in this post pandemic world, parashat Ki Teztei, is reminding us that if we strive to elevate every little act that we do every day to something holy, we can help to raise the levels of holiness in the world. It is not about grand gestures, but also about those small moments and those seemingly insignificant choices that make all the difference. To paraphrase the Dude from the ‘Big Lebowski,’ “Holiness abides.” Shall we be dressed for it?

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff