A couple of weeks ago my family and I went on a trip for a few days. On the plane, I was sitting next to a young man who mostly slept. I handed him a few snack bags from the airline when he woke up. He thanked me and then pointed to my Gemara and asked what I was “learning.” He didn’t look Jewish, so I was a bit surprised at his use of the term learning. “Do you mean, what am I studying?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “What Gemara are you learning?” Now I knew for sure he was Jewish. He told me he went to a Jewish day school growing up. I offered to learn Gemara with him when I returned from my trip, and he said he was interested and took my contact information. We soon arrived at our destination airport very late at night, so I did my best to gather a Maariv minyan at the airport. My new friend was happy to join in as well!
That Friday night on vacation, my son and I were walking home from shul and got lost. We asked a man walking toward us if he knew how to get to our block. He said he was also new to the area but offered to look it up on his phone. I detected a slight Israeli accent, so I asked him, “Are you Jewish?” “Yes, Shabbat shalom,” he replied. I graciously declined his offer, so he would not break Shabbos to assist us, but we parted in a very friendly way and baruch Hashem found our way.
At the end of our trip, on our plane ride home, a few girls were sitting in front of us. The way they dressed was not particularly Jewish, but when they engaged my wife and me in conversation, they told us they were in a Jewish high school and were excited that their mom had saved Shabbat food for them to eat when they would come home. So many Jewish encounters!!
My son remarked to me, “My rebbe spoke to our class recently, saying that as Torah Jews we have the opportunity to make a kiddush Hashem by the way we look and behave. It hadn’t occurred to me how true his words were. Just by my clearly Jewish appearance, plus friendly, appropriate behavior, I can influence Jewish people who see me to want to learn more and connect with Hashem more.”
The concept of special clothing is emphasized in this week’s parsha, which focuses in part on the clothing exclusively worn by the kohen and the kohen gadol. The Torah says these special garments are to be “lechavod ul’sifares”—to accord honor and splendor. The Ramban says these were regal garments, worn by royalty at the time the Torah was given. They were designated for the kohen and kohen gadol to indicate their elevated stature.
In Megillas Esther, when events began turning in our favor, it states that Mordechai left the palace wearing “royal garb.” The materials of his garments are also listed: techeiles, chur, ateres zahav gedolah… The Vilna Gaon translates the royal garb as “spiritual royal garments relating to mitzvos.” The techeiles and chur are the blue and white strings of the tzitzis. The ateres zahav gedolah are the boxes of the tefillin on the head and arm, and the tefillin’s straps. Indeed, every Jewish man should don the royal garb of tallis and tefillin daily!
Shortly before Matan Torah, Hashem tells the Jewish nation, “You will be a ‘mamleches kohanim v’goy kadosh,’ a royal priestly nation.” Each Jew is of royalty; therefore, our regular clothing should reflect a sense of dignity. A Jewish man or woman should be happy to dress in dignified and modest clothing; they are a badge of honor, the uniform of our royal priestly nation. Additionally, we should feel grateful to Hashem that we can dress freely in America and Eretz Yisrael.
Finally, when our clothing reflects our Jewish identity, it affords us an opportunity to make a proper impression regarding how a Jew behaves. We never know who is looking at us, whether at home or on vacation, and whom we might inspire to daven or learn Torah. It could be the person sitting next to us on a plane or standing in line at the store or walking by on the street. Our dress is our uniform as ambassadors of Hashem.