Recently, just before my weekly visit with the B’nai Israel Hebrew School children, I had mentioned to one of the youngsters preparing for his Bar Mitzvah that I particularly enjoyed these visits because I loved learning from the insights of the children. No sooner did I engage the class with the question of what “Neshama” “Soul” meant to them than I was rewarded with this response from a new member of the class, who I could see blurted out his answer, i.e. with no time to reflect: “The Soul is the personality of the heart”.
In our conversations, based in exploring how the Hebrew letters, Aleph, Bet, Gimel, and so on, reveal core values for Jewish consciousness and life, we saw that the human being resides in the second letter, Bet (since Aleph, number 1, belongs to God). Bet, as in Bayit, means, “house”. In this physical world we are “housed”, first by the planet, and then in all the physical structures that host us, up to and including our bodies, home to …and that is where the question of the Neshama, the Soul, came up.
So much of who we understand ourselves to be is made up of external structure and the way we are raised to live by values or guidelines we were given.
How we dress comes into play in the Torah’s exploring how we were to connect to God, in the context of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and later the Temple in Jerusalem. The Kohanim, the Priests, and, particularly, the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, had 8 distinct aspects of clothing and adornment that they wore to serve in drawing the people near to God, through sacrifices and offerings.
The sages observe that as stunning and startling was the beauty and majesty of the dress of the Kohen, each article of clothing was to remind them of blemishes and shortcomings for which atonement was made on a daily basis. Clothing of atonement itself was a reminder that the reason the Tabernacle was to be built in the first place was in response to the rebellious building of the Golden Calf, a demonstration of a lack of trust in either Moses or God.
The process of Teshuva, change in direction back to God, symbolized by the Priestly garb, invites us to examine what we cover up or reveal in how we dress. Do we have moments to get in touch with that elusive Neshama, the Soul, to which our body is host?
The purpose of Covenantal living, i.e. connecting Torah to Mitzvah, what we learn with what we do, is to get to know ourselves better through the journeys we share with one another, and to grow increasingly comfortable in our own skins. Strategically it hearkens to the prayer most people choose to lead when we call for volunteers to read the blessing for the night, at our Sabbath evening service: “May we so live that we can face the world with serenity and with grace. May we feel no remorse at night for what we have done during the day.”
Does what you wear, in clothes, or in the way you “act”, reveal who you are or cover up who you think you are that makes you self-conscious? Do you have opportunities to connect with the Soul within, the personality of your heart? Do you have times to still yourself enough to know who/HU you/U are inside, the part of you/U that is one with God, with U KNOW HU…and is Eternal?
These are questions to consider when we engage the light hearted holiday of Purim, which we shall celebrate in the middle of our second happiness month of Adar 2, on Saturday, March 19 at 6:30 PM followed by a grand party for the whole family. The dress code is: “silly”. Dress the part you either would never wear in a million years or the one you have always yearned to be. Just don’t wear the same thing you wear every day, unless you decide to use Purim as an opportunity to unmask yourself and tap into that Soul within.
Let us laugh out loud and make merry on Purim as we celebrate life’s joys in overcoming our perils, in overcoming the shadows and darkness of life in a world that can be scary around us, and inside us, when we don’t know who we are and don’t take the time to find out.
The dress of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, as striking as it is, reminds us that partnership with God entails connecting who you are on the inside with who and what you value in your daily journeys; the goal is to become whole, that who we are inside matches what we show the world.
When we allow the personality of the heart to come out and play, then we can rejoice fully in the merriment of Purim, of the happy month of Adar and in all of life, no matter what it may bring…knowing we have each other with whom to share the Game.