Why do people wear clothing? There's more to it than just covering up and keeping warm. In this week's Torah portion, we learn all about the special clothing worn by the Jewish priests, the Cohanim, who officiated in the Tabernacle. Their beautiful, and regal uniforms left no doubt in the eyes of all who saw them that they were involved in important, and spiritual tasks.

Whether we realize it or not, our clothing and our appearance also make a statement to the world, and give a message about who we are and what we value. It is, in a sense, our own private uniform. When deciding how to dress, we should consider carefully the image we present to the world, and do our best to align it with our true inner values.


In our story, a boy grapples with his choice of wardrobe...and his identity.


"Mmm ... this pizza actually looks pretty good," thought Gary, as he carried his lunch tray over to a nearby table to sit down. He recognized a couple of the kids sitting there from his science class, and hoped that maybe he would get to know them better.

He had been in this new school for nearly a month already, and though he was an outgoing kid, he just hadn't seemed to be able to make any friends.

Gary put his tray down, and went to get a napkin and straw. But when he got back, he couldn't believe it - the nearly full table had totally cleared out. Not one guy was left. Could everyone have really finished eating at the same time, just like that?

"Oh well. Another lonely lunch," he thought. The boy quickly finished his meal. He got up, and headed for the playground, zippering up his black leather motorcycle jacket on the way out.

He noticed a few kids from his class playing basketball at the far end of the schoolyard. "Maybe I'll shoot a few baskets with those guys." He walked over that way, but right before he got there, the guys broke up their game, and just seemed to disappear into thin air.

"That's weird," thought Gary, scratching his spiky hair. "If I didn't know better, I'd think no one around here likes me..." But before he could finish his thought, he heard someone shouting his name.

"Gary Summers! Is that really you?" It was Harold, an old friend from his former school.

"Hey Harold, do you go to this school too? When you moved away last year, I figured you dropped off the planet, or something."

Harold laughed. "Nope. I'm just here. How's it going?"

Gary shrugged, and sighed. "I'll tell you the truth, I really can't stand it here. I haven't made one friend, and all the teachers treat me like I'm some kind of troublemaker, even though I've been on my best behavior."

Harold gave his friend a long look, and nodded sympathetically. "Let's take a walk," he said.

The two old friends made small talk, and caught up on old times. After a while Harold cleared throat, and got to his point. "You know, Gary, I think I know what might be behind your problems here."

Gary perked up as his friend went on. "It's your new look. That spike haircut and those tough-looking clothes are giving people the wrong message."

Gary felt himself getting upset. "What do you mean? There's no dress code here. Why should people care how I dress? It's what's inside that counts!" he asserted.

"Yes ... and no." countered Harold. "You and I know you're a nice guy, but that get-up you're wearing, says 'trouble - stay away.' Our old school was so big that nobody stood out, no matter how they dressed, but around here the only kids who dress like you are real bad news. You have to expect that's the way people are going to view you. Trust me. Come to school tomorrow looking a bit more toned down, and I guarantee you'll have a much better day."

The bell rang, and the kids had to go back to class. Gary was glad. He had heard enough from his friend. Nobody could tell him how to dress. If people couldn't handle it, it was their problem.

Gary made his way to geometry class. But as he sat down he could almost feel the kids around him inching away. He looked at them. They really did look nervous having him around. Could Harold actually be right?

The next morning, Gary started heading out to wait for the school bus and grabbed his motorcycle jacket. Suddenly his friend's words echoed in his mind. "I guess I really don't have to wear this jacket", he thought, grabbing a blue sweater instead.

He glanced over at the mirror on the way out. His hair did look pretty scary. On a whim, Gary combed down some of the spikes from his hair and parted it to the side.

He ran to catch the bus, and something strange happened. For the first time since he had started school, a kid sat down next to him. "Hi. Aren't you new around here?" he asked.

That was the beginning of the best day Gary had since he started school. He made a lot of new friends that day, and came to realize that while maybe "clothes don't make the man," they sure do make a difference.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Gary feel at his new school before he spoke with his friend Harold?
A. He felt lonely since he wasn't making friends.

Q. How did Harold's advice help him?
A. Harold helped Gary realize that the way he was dressing was giving people the wrong impression about him. After that, Gary changed his look, and started making friends.

Ages 6-9

Q. Were the kids in Gary's school wrong for relating to him based on his appearance?
A. Ideally we should judge and relate to people based on who they are inside. But since nobody (except possibly Superman) has X-ray vision, it's natural to form a first impression of someone based on their appearance. In Gary's case, his 'tough-guy' wardrobe gave people the message to keep their distance. So even though the kids judging Gary the way they did wasn't really right, it's certainly understandable.

Q. Is there any we to get people to relate to the 'real you'?
A. One way is to make sure that the image we project is consistent with our personality and values. For instance, a person who likes things neat and clean should look that way himself. Someone who wants to get along peacefully with others shouldn't dress like he's looking for a fight. Somebody who doesn't like to have everyone staring at him shouldn't wear flashy or unusual outfits, etc.

Q. What kind of image do you create about yourself by the clothes you wear?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Were the kids in Gary's school wrong for relating to him based on his appearance?

Q. What is the spiritual purpose of clothing?
A. Clothing is a form of expression. It is our interface with the world around us. The way we dress, or don't dress serves to tell others what we're about, and where our values lie. For instance, a spiritual person will tend to dress in a way that doesn't call attention to his body, so that others will relate to his inner essence, or soul. Clothing is much more than a 'fashion statement'; it is a powerful form of communication.

Q. Our sages describe the body as being the garment of the soul. What do you think this means?
A. A garment, as elaborate as it may be, is when all is said and done, merely an outer covering for the person himself. Our sages are teaching that the essence of a person is his soul, which lives forever and that his body is just a garment, or tool, which gives him the ability to exist and accomplish his spiritual tasks in the temporary physical world. We should appreciate and enjoy our garments, but we should never mistake them for being who we really are.

Q. What kind of image do you create about yourself by the clothes you wear?