Did I Really Peek Into Your Closet?

I don’t mean to startle you by revealing a secret of yours, but here goes.  I know that in your closet, you have items of clothing you haven’t worn in a very long time.  There! I told you.  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.  But this is just the place for me to offer ancient Jewish wisdom’s explanation behind your reluctance to trash the old trousers.  The good news is that your sadness at slinging out that old suit reflects really well on you.

I am sure you are one of those well-organized souls whose home and work space are clean and neat.  You are quick to purge unneeded papers, books, tools, recipes, and kitschy family heirlooms.  You even threw out last Thursday’s perfectly delicious dinner leftovers with barely a twinge.  But you just cannot throw out clothing.  You’ll be relieved to know that there is a perfectly good reason.  Clothing is different.

Our clothing imparts identity and dignity to us and those are more important to us than even food.  We all remember stories of the down and out salesman who spent his last few dollars, not on a meal but on a new suit and a shoeshine, knowing they would buck him up for his next interview even more than hot food.

I almost never ridicule the fashion industry; I even follow it somewhat and respect it.  Naturally some of the silly excesses seen on the more outlandish haute couture runways deserve whatever ridicule they earn. But 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 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.  We do almost anything to stave off shame and embarrassment.  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.  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 means ‘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.  On the podcast, I often discuss holistic health, but for present purposes suffice it to say that there is a far stronger bond between our souls and our bodies than conventional western medicine comfortably confronts.  The indisputable efficacy of placebos is just the tip of this particular iceberg.

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 actually see is that skin lesions are first discussed. (Leviticus 13:38-46)

Then lesions upon the patient’s clothing are discussed. (Leviticus 13:47-59)

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.

  Regardless of comfort, we should select and wear clothing that characterize 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.  I strongly advise people who work at home to dress exactly as they would were they about to commute to a downtown office.

Yes, do clear out your closet already!  However, I wouldn’t throw anything other than worn out rags in the trash.  Fortunately there are many worthy organizations that will accept your unneeded clothing.


19 thoughts on “Did I Really Peek Into Your Closet?”

  1. Susan, I appreciated hearing your words. I hope that you’ll have a fantastic rest of the week.
    Many thanks, LJ. PS I really enjoyed your baking story and I’ve been in that situation before.

  2. Humans weren’t designed to see the two sexes neutrally. Rigorous academic standards demand that we teach or lead by example. We must expect everyone involved to respect and appreciate the differences about the sexes while keeping the focus clearly upon important subject matter. This ‘clothing’ post is so crucial to understanding the orderly implications of proper attire being worn in various settings. Proper clothing also underscores the importance our Creator has to do with our spiritual lives. Spending our time and resources on our clothing is one of those constructive acts we must engage in if we are to interact and cooperate with others.

    Perhaps there is no connection between the way our clothing habits have changed and the seemingly low-attention span of our youths? However, I think that vulgarity (and profanity) had seeped into the culture when people began dressing down in schools and elsewhere. This vulgarity reflects poorly upon our collective cultural dignity.

    It’s odd to me that we enjoy so many wonderful things and that there also appears to be an unhappiness that looms over public schools. It is like a dark cloud hanging over them. I’d like to think that people within the institutions can do better and wake up from their slumber. I’d like to see them do it quickly and I’m praying that they will someday succeed.

    I’m also encouraged to think that there has been a recognition by many youths today, not yet publicized, of silly ideas that will cause great harm to this country if they do nothing to stop them.

    PS Probably the lousy subject matter that has passed as lofty academic studies have put many people, attending schools and higher learning institutions, to sleep.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful revelation you have sent

    God bless you, wife, family and your ministry

    hrs-aclc cal

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Michael–
      We receive your welcome blessing with joy, thank you so much.

  4. I have been reading TT and Susan’s blog, without commenting, for several months now due to both circumstances outside of my control (two deaths) and commitments I’ve devoted myself to doing these days. However, just this morning prior to reading today’s Thought Tool, I began to clean my closet of clothing. I took a break to drink a cup of coffee and to read emails! Wow, what a delight to find your recent TT! Here are several thoughts I had about it:

    1) My family and I read the Bible daily and we’ve been listening to and reading your work since about 2001. Thanks, RDL & SL for truly insightful work. I completely agree with you that new insights are always on the horizon of Biblical understanding. I know, from reading the Bible, that our Creator desires our gratitude for our lives and for the many resources entrusted to our care. I don’t believe in coincidences.

    2) I was privileged to have the same kindergarten and first grade teacher. I used to dress like her, in a nice dress and with my hair pinned up into a bun; and then I’d go to my grandparent’s home after school, pretending to teach. I would set up child sized chairs in the room with dolls as my “class” and used the chalkboard to teach them the alphabet. (I also played house “arranging furniture” with those same chairs and my dolls were my children, naturally.) My kindergarten and first grade pictures reveal the buns and my dress in one and shirt (that was worn with a skirt, not pictured) in the other; and an interesting thing is that I can recall the memories of those two picture days and those carefully chosen outfits. The other interesting thing is that my childhood was not normal; I was homeless at age 12 and then I went to live with my grandparents. In childhood, my single mother sometimes dressed in miniskirts that were popular then but that I thought were too short!

    3) As a high school freshman our career choice pamphlet revealed that I wanted to go into either fashion or interior design. And I took 3 years of high school sewing and fabric coursework, learning to sew on an industrial Bernina sewing machine. I also considered teaching.

    4) Though I did not go into those professions, I eventually taught my two of my three children at home; two of their school years were in elementary school but I taught them part-time at home. I would drop them off and then pick them up at lunchtime, professionally dressed in business style skirts Monday through Friday. While at home, I taught in those clothes. I was committed to showing my children and the teachers (wearing jeans most everyday) what it meant to me to be a professional teacher.

    5) Though I have no teaching degree, I have degrees in chemistry & economics. I also had sailing and archery courses in college. I find that many subjects translate well to human relationships. I can understand your interest in many subjects in this way, especially to their relationships with wisdom from the Bible.

    6) Clothing our bodies is one of many spiritually guided principles from our maker imparting to us concepts of respect and humility. Our nakedness makes us vulnerable, while our clothing shields us from the elements. So it is humbling to be naked and respectful to be clothed properly. (I just grimaced at separate memories of men I saw riding bicycles, in the cities of Seattle and Berkley, where people are allowed to be naked in public.)

    Your life’s work is a worthy endeavor. This patron and her family are grateful to you and to Susan for the privilege of being part of your audience. We’re grateful to our Creator for being born to take part in the excitement of life!

    1. LJ, I’m sorry you had so many losses this year. Your point about dressing to teach your children reminded me of the very clear change I saw when first students and then teachers stopped dressing properly for school. I lived near a public school growing up and watched the change in the dress go from skirts for girls and pants for boys to jeans for both. After that, the teachers started wearing jeans and T-shirts to work as well. Nowadays, that would be well dressed in many places. Can’t say it caused the drop in academic standards, but it certainly correlated with that.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Hello James–
      Glad you have a rabbi, too! But sorry if it was uncomfortable.

  5. Hello Rabbi Daniel Lapin,
    Your writings really intrigue me. I agree with the concept that our clothes affect how people perceive and treat us.
    Is it the same for a clean & organized place of business, home (inside & outside), car, etc?
    I really enjoy your writings.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Tom–
      Thanks for writing. What you cite is one of the points in our Thought Tool, another component is that our clothes affect how WE perceive and treat ourselves! Regarding clean and organized work space, both ways work. Einstein’s desk was notoriously messy and disorganized. So are many other folks’. Some people work better in neat space, others function differently. But our relationship with our clothing is different. It is special. My desk is just my desk but my clothes are part of me. That is precisely why healthy people find it difficult to toss unused clothing in the garbage.

  6. Thank you Rabbi for your teachings. I am a new follower and have been reading the thought tools, listening to your podcast and purchased the Perils of Profanity. I’m not quite sure yet on what I need to change my wardrobe to, but it certainly needs to change. I never want to wear clothing that brings attention to myself, so I tend to wear a lot of black. I see all these women wearing beautiful clothes, even casual beautiful clothes, but I’m so uncomfortable wearing them that I hang them back on the rack and leave the store without making a purchase. I also have a bit of a hang up about spending money on nice, quality clothing as well. I’m not poor, but there is some guilt associated on purchasing any item more than $20. I can’t do it. So I end up getting a bunch of cheap items that look terrible and don’t last long. I’m basically a frump. I’m sure there are some deep issues I have yet to discover, but confident that I will overcome my nature by learning more of God’s word. Thank you again for all that you do.

  7. If you don’t stop blowing my mind, soon I will have nothing left with to read Thought Tools. This T.T. is remarkable, I am especially intrigued by the embarrassment aspect. It is one of the many dots that when connected lead us directly back to Leviticus 19:18 and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It really is all loving our Creator and our neighbors, yes I knew this already but another way of getting there is sometimes eye and heart opening.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      That’s funny Louis–
      You’re embarrassing me! Talking of which, the embarrassment aspect, being the flip side of dignity is very intriguing.
      Thanks for writing

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Get to it, Lawrence–
      but remember that Leviticus is the hardest of the Five Books.
      Wishing you enjoyable and rewarding study

  8. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    Dear Susan–
    Don’t feel bad; not to be obnoxious but I have studied this passage more times than you. And it wasn’t until this year that I was struck by clothing being discussed in what appeared to be the wrong sequence. I explored ancient Jewish wisdom and was flabbergasted to see huge windows into reality opening up–windows I had been unaware of for a long time. This happens to me regularly. I can assure you that I have never sat down to study a passage of Scripture and not found a shockingly new insight I had never seen before.
    By the way, there is much misguided information out there that giving clothing to a charity does harm. This is not true and whether charities sell these used clothes or whether they send them to underdeveloped parts of the world, it is all very positive.
    Thanks for writing and for your kind words

    1. Interesting commentary Rabbi Lapin! We resolved that issue here a long time ago. We were struck by the number of storage units that have popped up over the last few dozen years, where people can rent a space to store excessive amounts of stuff they most likely will never use or wear again. It appears to be sort of an obsessive-compulsive behavior. We decided back then that we needed to have a house rule to purge ourselves of clothing that we hadn’t worn in a year and of items that we no longer use. Every few months we leave a few bags or boxes on the front porch to be picked up, things that others can eventually purchase and use at much less than the original cost. We find that sometimes less is better!

      I was impressed at how though Abraham had been given a vast amount of territory by God, he didn’t find it necessary to lay down foundations and was content to live in a tent, whereas his relative Lot had different values, he and his wife were drawn to the big city lights. I have a gut feeling that when the angel of the Lord finally directed Lot and his wife to leave Sodom and Gomorrah and not look back, that Lot’s wife was so emotionally unable to let go of her things that she looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt, this speaks volumes to those of us who have a propensity to put far too much emotional value on things that are of no eternal value and may in some cases be as bad as false idols.

      1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

        Yes, Mark,
        No question that for many people relinquishing possessions can be liberating.
        The proliferation of storage mini warehouses around the country certainly tells us something
        Thanks for writing.

  9. Thank you for all of your insightful information. I have studied the Leviticus passage several times but I never really connected it to our clothes today. Yes there are several outfits I need to give to charity but haven’t . ? I really have learned quite a bit from Susan and your posts and thought tools.
    Have a blessed day, Susan

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