Our clothing does a lot of things. It keeps us warm. It protects us from the sun. This week's Torah portion teaches us a lot about the beautiful and special clothing that the Cohanim, the Jewish Priests, would wear while they served in the Tabernacle and helped the Jewish people connect to God. While it's true that how we dress is important, we should be careful not to make too much out of it either. Sometimes people make the mistake of judging others based upon how they are dressed. Or they think that they must dress a certain style to express to others who they are. It's important remember to focus on who a person is on the inside, and how that doesn't change however he or she is dressed.
In our story a boy and his dad explore what appearances are -- and what they're not.
Mr. Goldman heard the familiar sound of the door banging shut. He lifted up his head from under the hood of the classic car he had been working on. He smiled at the sight of his son, dressed in his usual flashy style, flipping his baseball glove back and forth at a pesky fly who had been buzzing around.
"Hey what's up Robbie?" he called out to the boy over the engine noise.
"I'm okay I guess," answered the boy with a shake of his shoulder. "I just came back from Junior League tryouts," he added.
"How did it go? Did you make the team?" asked his dad.
Robbie was a tall, athletic boy who seemed most at home throwing, kicking, or hitting some kind of ball. "Sure," he said. The coach said he would start me in center field."
"That's great!" beamed his dad. "You must be psyched."
Robbie wiped back his long bangs back from his eyes. "Well, not really dad," he said. "There's sort of a problem."
Mr. Goldman reached into the dashboard of the car he had been fixing. He turned off the engine to give full attention to his son. "What's the problem?" he asked.
"Well," said Robbie. "Tryouts went really well. I even hit two balls over the fence. But then the coach came over to me and told me about the team dress code. He said everybody on the team has to wear the same colored clothes even at practice, and also get short haircuts."
"Hmm," his dad nodded.
"I'm not sure I want to do that."
"I see. What exactly troubles you about the dress code?" his father asked.
"Well," said the boy. "I just don't want to look the same as everybody else. I like my style -- it's who I am."
"I understand how you feel," said his dad. "I remember a time I had to put on a uniform and I didn't like it either."
Robbie looked at his dad, curious.
"Many years ago, before I started my own classic car business, I used to work as a mechanic at Spark Plug City. It was a big garage and one of the rules was that all the mechanics had to wear the same uniform. At first it really bothered me. I also had my style and I felt that it was how a person is inside that counts, not how he's dressed."
Robbie nodded his head. "That's what you always tell us, Dad," he said. "And that's why I don't want to follow any dumb dress code."
Mr. Goldman smiled. "Right. Well, I needed the job so I wore the uniform. The other mechanics working there were nice guys, and we all got along well. Then the day came when we had a shop picnic. All the guys and their families got together for a barbeque at Warner Lake. It was the first time we all got to spend time together 'out of uniform.' Boy, was I surprised when I saw how some of my buddies from the job dressed. One fellow looked like a cowboy, another guy looked like a fashion model..."
Robbie laughed as his dad continued. "It occurred to me that if we had first met each other on the street, half of us probably wouldn't even have given each other the time of day. It was precisely because we had first met each other all in the same uniform, instead of flaunting our styles, that we learned to get along and to appreciate who each of us were inside, instead of just judging by what we saw. I realized then that it wasn't 'the clothes that make the man,' but 'the man that makes the clothes.' I've been a lot less concerned with my style ever since."
Robbie, who had by then grabbed a polish cloth and was slowly rubbing it on the fender of the shiny convertible, was quiet in thought. After a moment the boy spoke up. "Dad, I think I'm going to join the team. I love to play ball and maybe it'll be interesting to get to really know the guys on the team while we're all in uniform too. But do you think I'll still be me even without the same look?"
His dad patted him on the back. "Son," he said, "you'll always be you, and I'll always like your style ... whatever you look like."
Q. How did Robbie feel when his coach told him he would have to dress in a certain way to be on the baseball team?
A. He was unhappy. He liked the way he dressed and thought that if he changed it, he wouldn't feel like himself.
Q. Just because people dress the same does that mean that they are the same inside too?
A. No. Everybody is different and special. Two people can look the same but be really different inside.
Q. Do you think that it's possible to really know what a person is like by the way he appears? Why or why not?
A. Although the way somebody dresses can tell us something about the person, more often than not what it tells us is superficial. To really get to know a person, it is best to look beyond their physical appearance and see who they are on the inside.
Q. Does it really matter how we dress?
A. Although the way we dress doesn't say who we really are, it does give others an impression of us. Often that first impression is important and will affect the way people react to us. How we dress can also reflect on how we look at ourselves. Do we wear clean, decent-looking clothes that make a nice appearance, or do we wear clothes that are dirty or a little wild that make people look at us? Generally, it is a good idea to dress in a way that shows that we care about our appearance, but at the same time shows that we realize, and want others to also realize, that there is more to us than just our looks.
Q. What was the advantage that Robbie's father discovered when he was in an environment where everyone dressed the same?
A. He had originally assumed that everyone being in the same uniform would prevent them from expressing and appreciating each other's individuality. But he was surprised to discover the opposite. Once everyone looked the same on the outside, they were better able to look "inside" of each other and form more honest relationships that might have never happened if they were all influenced by each other's appearances.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Does it really matter how we dress?
A. The way we dress helps create our 'image' and the way we present ourselves to the world. It tells people to some extent what we would like them to think of us. While it may be true that inside we are very different than that image, practically speaking it is our appearance that many people will first respond to. Therefore, it is wise put some thought into just what message we are comfortable giving out as we are choosing our attire.
Q. What does your present style say about you?
Q. What do you think Robbie was afraid of when he balked at following the team dress code? How did he make peace with his concerns?
A. Most people invest a lot of energy forming their image. It can even reach a point that we begin to feel that the image is who we are. Robbie was concerned that without his image he wouldn't be able to relate to the other kids, or they to him. But after his dad shared his experience at the garage, Robbie realized the challenge and benefit of learning how to relate to a group of people dressed alike and how to look beyond the image.