"For glory and for splendor" (28:2)
In light of the economic situation here in Israel, the government has been cutting back on renewing visas for foreign workers and sometimes deporting those who are here illegally.
Some years ago we had a cleaning lady from Romania called Valerica. Her mode of dress was the standard Romanian generic stonewashed Levis topped with a T-shirt that proclaimed the megatour of some Heavy Metal Band like Blind Widow or some other denizen of the musical illiterati.
Recently, my wife happened to be walking down Shmuel Hanavi Street when she saw a lady who bore a striking resemblance to Valerica. However, this lady was dressed in a long skirt, a modest blouse and her hair was covered with a beret. My wife looked again and said, "Valerica? Is it you?" "Yes, it’s me" she replied. My wife’s curiosity was piqued, "But what? What happened? Did you become Jewish?" With a malignant snort she replied, "Of course not! It’s only for show. If I don’t dress up like this, the police will spot me and kick me out of the country!"
I couldn’t help but be struck by the irony: Some seventy years ago Jews were afraid to walk the streets of Bucharest unless they were dressed as conspicuous Romanians, and some seventy years later this Romanian was afraid to walk the streets of Jerusalem (obviously with far more benign consequences) unless she was dressed like a Jew.
Clothes conceal, but they also reveal.
This week’s Torah portion starts with a description of the clothes of the kohanim. The Torah uses two abstract nouns to define the purpose of these garments: "for glory and for splendor."
The Malbim says that the glory of the garments of the kohanim was that they revealed the innate holiness that G-d had given to the kohanim. However, these clothes were also for the splendor that would come from the efforts of the kohanim.
"Glory" refers to the gifts G-d gives man. "Splendor" refers to what we can achieve by ourselves.
The reading of this week’s Torah portion comes just before Purim. On Purim there is a widespread custom to dress up in masquerade costumes. What is the connection between Purim and costumes?
In Tractate Megillah (12a), the students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai asked him why the Jews of Persia at the time of Purim were judged to be worthy of destruction. He said to them, “You tell me.” They said, "Because they had pleasure from the feast of that evil man (Achashverosh).” He replied, “If that was true, only the Jews of Shushan who participated in the feast should have been culpable, not every Jew in Persia.” So they said back to Rabbi Shimon, "You tell us." He said, "Because they bowed to the idol of Nevuchadnetzar."
The gemara concludes, “But they only did it for show.” They only bowed out of fear of being put to death, not because they were really worshipping idols. Therefore, “G-d also only did it for show” — meaning that G-d allowed Haman’s genocide plan to proceed as far as it did only in order to frighten the Jews into repenting and mending their ways.
Our dressing up on Purim is to remind us that this whole world, in a sense, is “just a show”. That this whole world is a mask that hides the existence of G-d. The word for "world" in Hebrew, olam, has the same root as ne’elam, which means "hidden."
What we “see” is not necessarily what “is”. It’s our job to pry the mask from the face of the world and reveal Who is behind it.