Feathers and Fashion

A beautiful pine tree stands outside my window, obviously irresistible to a pair of woodpeckers.  That towering evergreen makes me happy but so do those two birds.  Whenever I hear the familiar rat-a-tat-tat, I look up with a huge grin in the hope of catching a glimpse of the feathery miscreants.  The male sports splendid streaks of red while the female…you’ll pardon me, but she’s a bit dowdy.

The peacock and the peahen display the same bifurcation of beauty as do male and female mallard ducks; the male sporting an iridescent green head and snappy back while the female makes do in plain-looking mottled brown. Among animals it is almost always the male that nature endows with extra adornment.

At social events, women are glamorously arrayed with make-up, jewelry, and brightly colored fashion while the men appear boring in black tuxedos.  Whether in the workplace or the street, female humans look more ornamental than men. Even at informal gatherings, a man might throw on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt while most women take far more trouble with their appearance.  That’s why fashion giants like Dior, Versace, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Chanel and others flourish on their women’s lines.

To gain a glimpse into God’s sense of the sartorial, we should scrutinize His directions for the clothing of the priests. Exodus 25 launches the construction of the Tabernacle with the words:

And they shall make for me a sanctuary and I shall dwell among them.
(Exodus 25:8)

From that verse all the way through Exodus chapter 30, we read detailed directions for constructing the Tabernacle and its holy articles. (Holy, because through their use in worship, they bring us closer to God).

Right in the middle of meticulous instructions for the menorah and the altar, we take a detour, finding equally detailed instructions for the priests’ clothing.

And you must make holy garments for Aharon your brother…
(Exodus 28:2)

The special Hebrew structure of the verse suggests that, in reality, all garments are “holy garments”.  Clothing is holy because clothing distinguishes us from animals. Anything that differentiates humans from animals brings us closer to God—another way of saying holy.

God could have said something like, “When the priests serve in the Tabernacle, they should wear modest clothing that covers their bodies and that is also clean and neatly pressed.”  Yet we do not find that casual attitude.

From the fact that God chose to issue intricate priestly clothing particulars right in the middle of His directions for constructing things like a menorah and an altar, we know that He views clothing as just as holy as the worship items in the Tabernacle.

Wait, you might think this is true for the clothing of the priests, but not for the rest of us. No, nothing could be further from the truth.   We are all meant to conduct ourselves like priests in these matters.

And you shall all be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…
(Exodus 19:6)

Why must all the priests wear an identical uniform?  For the same reason that one of the most effective institutions in a culture, the army, also dresses its members identically.  For the same reason that at that fancy gala event, while the women wear different and distinctive dresses, the men dress in evening uniform—the tuxedo.

Animals are driven only by a biological imperative in which the healthiest and showiest male catches the eye of a fertile female.  In contrast, people are driven also by a spiritual imperative. In the human world, females are most attracted to the male capable of subduing his egotistical drive and proclaiming himself part of the team, a wearer of the uniform.

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