My wife is taking inordinate pleasure upon reading that after having three children, the famous home tidy-up-er, Marie Kondo is acknowledging that tidying up is not the most important thing in life. Nonetheless, no matter what the living room or children’s bedrooms look like, unless you have been a Kondo acolyte, I know a truth about your closet. You have garments that have been hanging there for years that you just can’t bring yourself to discard. Even without skulking creepily around your closet, I know this to be true.
This is not the place to provide you with guidance on how to sort your wardrobe and decide what should stay and what should go. This is just the place for me to offer ancient Jewish wisdom’s explanation behind your reluctance to trash your old trousers. The good news is that your sadness at slinging out that old suit reflects well on you.
Perhaps you are one of those well-organized souls whose home and workspace are clean and neat. Maybe, you are quick to purge unneeded papers, books, tools, recipes, and kitschy family heirlooms. But you just cannot throw out clothing. You’ll be relieved to know that there is a perfectly good reason. Clothing is different.
Clothing imparts identity and dignity to us and these are more important than even food. There are wonderful charities that offer business attire to those who are down and out, knowing that proper clothing will buck them up for a job interview even more than a hot meal.
Some of the excesses of the fashion industry deserve ridicule. But the industry overall has value. We are the only creature on the planet that expends so much time and energy on clothing ourselves. For me, the fashion industry helps prove that we are not part of the continuum of animals; we are unique, touched by the finger of God.
The fashion industry is correct in providing all its wondrous variety because clothing is not merely utilitarian. The one-piece mechanic overalls that I sometimes wear while working on a boat would not be suitable for a night on the town. This is why God rejected the utilitarian fig leaves stitched by Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:7), replacing them with Divinely tailored leather outfits (Genesis 3:21).
Shame and embarrassment are the flip side of identity and dignity. During WWII, the Nazis, not content merely to take the lives of their Jewish prisoners in the death camps, first removed their dignity as well by stripping them naked. Some lost their will to live right there. Many desperate individuals have even taken their own lives because of shame and embarrassment. Ancient Jewish wisdom regards giving a needy person a job or even a loan as a far higher level of compassion than giving him a handout because that preserves his dignity.
In the Lord’s language, Hebrew, one of the words for clothing is LeVuSh (לבוש) which can also mean, ‘for the purpose of avoiding embarrassment’. For this reason, we retain an affection, perhaps a subconscious respect and even appreciation for our clothes that makes it harder for us to drop them into the garbage than it is to throw away other unneeded items.
We see this profound connection between a human being and his clothing in a deep and almost impenetrable section of Leviticus. Chapter 13 discusses types of skin lesions that are medical manifestations of purely spiritual problems. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that the skin conditions discussed in Leviticus 13 are actually physical conditions caused by spiritual flaws. Certain immoral behaviors produce visible symptoms on a person’s skin, although we can no longer detect them today. Amazingly, they produce lesions upon his clothing as well!
We would have expected Scripture to describe the skin lesions and their treatment, then the clothing. Yet, what we see is that skin lesions are discussed, (Leviticus 13:38-46) then lesions upon the patient’s clothing are discussed, (Leviticus 13:47-59*), and only then is the cure for the patient finally presented. (Leviticus 14:1-32)
In other words, the lesions upon the clothing are one additional manifestation of the spiritual disease afflicting the person wearing that clothing. The person’s behavior affects his clothing.
This deep link connecting us with our clothing is alluded to again during the description of the consecration of Aaron and his sons, the priests.
…and he shall be consecrated, his clothes
and his sons and their clothes with him.
(Exodus 29:21) *
Our clothes are almost as much a part of us as is our own skin; no wonder we find it difficult to discard them. Furthermore, knowing of the bond between us and our clothing helps us sculpt a beneficial relationship with them. Here is the most important tip, one that has extra meaning as many of us work from home and as pajamas have become acceptable wear in public.
Regardless of comfort, we should select and wear clothing that characterizes our ambitions and goals. Our clothing influences how we are viewed by our spouses, children, friends, and work associates. Even more importantly, our clothing powerfully influences how we view ourselves.
Yes, do clear out your closet already! But Marie Kondo was touching a truth of ancient Jewish wisdom when she recommended thanking the clothing you are about to discard before donating or, if they are truly rags, discarding them.
This Thought Tool is updated from an earlier version in March 2017.
In our recommended Bible:
There are many words for specific types of clothing, and these are used in some of the references listed above. Another word for clothing, in general, is B-G-D. We can see this word here:
*Leviticus 13:47 ב-ג-ד (B-G-D). והבגד – and the clothing: P. 340, bottom line, 4th word from the left.
*Exodus 29:21 בגדי – the clothing of: P. 256, 9th line, first word (the same root appears on the 8th line, first word – בגדיו – his clothing.
We can see the word L-V-SH meaning clothing in:
Esther 6:9 הלבוש –the clothing. P. 2178, 7th line, 3rd word from the left.
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