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.
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.