Dressing to Benefit Others

Yael Eckstein  |  March 31, 2022

Yael with son Liam

The priest is to examine the affected area and isolate the article of clothing for seven days. — Leviticus 13:50

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Tazria, which means “conceived” from Leviticus 12:1-13:59.

I have two teenagers — Mayora and Liam. As anyone who has parented teenagers can tell you, one of the biggest challenges of raising teens is teaching them to be themselves and to stay true to their values no matter what their friends say or do.

I try my best to teach my kids to value God’s opinion over their friends’ opinions, and I try to lead by example. But I also pray a lot and ask God to help them make the right choices, because I know that it can be very difficult.

One area where I see my kids sometimes putting too much stock in their friends’ opinions relates to clothing. Too often — and for too many people — what we wear has become a symbol of status in society. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to look respectable, even fashionable. But clothing can also become a way that people try to show that they are better than others.

Like most status symbols, clothes — particularly those with designer labels — too often are used to exclude those who aren’t wearing the “in” thing. That’s why I put extra effort into teaching my kids to use clothing to express respect for themselves and not as a means to elevate themselves above others.

Dressing to Benefit Others

This week’s Torah portion also teaches us an important lesson about our clothing. One interesting feature of the biblical skin disease of tzaraat is that it afflicts the clothing of the person, as well as their skin. This is further evidence that tzaraat was not a normal illness but had a supernatural spiritual quality.

As we have discussed, tzaraat was punishment for slander, gossip, and derogatory speech. Such speech is destructive to relationships and causes greater division among people. It’s fitting that the tzaraat was seen on the clothing of the person who spread this type of damaging talk.

The afflicted person tried to tear someone else down, to lower someone else’s status, with their speech. When their clothing became afflicted with the disease, their own social status was harmed as a result of their destructive behavior.

Tzaraat teaches us to use the gift of speech constructively, building people up rather than tearing them down. And that should extend into other areas of our lives as well, including how we dress. Our clothes shouldn’t be a way to exclude others or make ourselves appear better than others. Rather than dressing for our own success, we should be dressing to benefit others!

Your Turn:

What are your thoughts about our clothes as a detriment to others? Share your responses in the space provided below.

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