June 12, 2024
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Outer Appearance and Inner Beauty

The juxtaposition of Parshat Tetzaveh to Purim has long fascinated me. More specifically, what I find puzzling are the conflicting messages that emerge from each of these sources.

A global theme that emerges from Parshat Tetzaveh is the significance of outer appearances. The Torah describes the garments of the kohen gadol in painstaking detail and outlines the tremendous outlay of time and money spent on their creation—all so that that these garments should be “לכבוד ולתפארת, for glory and splendor,” properly representative of the kohen’s important stature. Clearly the goal was for the kohen gadol to look regal and majestic—as only then can he represent the nation in the Beit Hamikdash.

Emerging from this parsha is the lesson that we must be deliberate about how we present ourselves—and that our dress should appropriately reflect our life role and position. The Gemara in Shabbos 114 accordingly states that a talmid chacham may not wear clothing that are patched or stained. Our outer appearance, our tradition teaches, can be of great importance.

Strangely, however, an opposite message emerges from the chag of Purim. We are all familiar with the custom of dressing up on Purim. One prominent explanation for this custom is that on Purim we cover our outer appearance to shift the attention to our inner selves, who we really are. Purim is a day where we focus on our pnimiyut, our inner qualities, rather than on outer superficialities. Some authorities explain that the Purim Megillah is called מגילת אסתר because on Purim we try to be מגלה ההסתר, “to reveal the hiddenness,” on many levels. On one level, we reveal the hand of God in the Purim story and thereby reveal His presence in our lives. On another level, we reveal the hidden part of ourselves and the depth of our true nature.

How strange, therefore, that Purim, a day when we turn away from our external selves in order to highlight our internal selves, should often coincide with Parshat Tetzaveh, which clearly highlights the importance of dress and external features. Why?

I believe that a profound message can be learned from the juxtaposition of Tetzaveh and Purim, as a critical balance emerges. Parshat Tetzaveh teaches us that appearances matter; how we present ourselves conveys messages to those around us and to ourselves. At the same time, Purim reminds us that while our outer appearance matters, it does not define us. We are much deeper than the clothes we wear. Every person has tremendous depth and the ability to touch the world in ways that move beyond the externals.

In the world in which we live, how we look is important. Our exterior appearance affects the way that others view us and how we view ourselves. Our clothing also provides us with the opportunity to express ourselves. Even in our insular communities, how we dress—what kippah/head covering we wear, the style of clothing we display—is often chosen deliberately to affiliate with a particular group or crowd.

Much of this phenomenon is built into the human experience. At the same time, an awareness of the inherent danger of focusing too much on externals should be ever-present. It is easy to completely define ourselves and others by how we, and they, look. The message of Purim is a reminder of our inherent worth, and that what matters most is who we are on the inside, not how we look on the outside.

As parents, we impress the importance of dress upon our children early on, consciously or otherwise. We dress up infants like dolls, and toddlers in fun, matching outfits. We raise our children to be aware of their appearance and to look presentable and neat. Special occasions—Shabbatot,chagim, smachot—become opportunities for dressing up. Discussions regarding tzniut, and dress in general, all convey the message that one’s appearance is critically important. And as our children grow older, clothing and outer appearance become a vehicle for their own self-expression.

All this is not only appropriate, but necessary. How our children dress will affect the way that others view them and how they view themselves. As Parshat Tetzaveh underscores, Judaism appreciates the impact that outer appearances have.

At the same time, we must consciously work to maintain the correct equilibrium for our children in this area. The impact of the culture around us, and its focus on externalities, is pervasive and constant. The social norms of our communities greatly emphasize dress and appearance. We must therefore balance these influences by constantly reminding our children that, as important as appearance and dress are, they are not definitional. We may not judge others by their appearance, but to strive to get to know who they really are.

And we must actively impart the message of each child’s inherent self-worth and beauty. In a world that screams of superficiality and shallowness, it is essential that we instill within our children a sense of depth and a refusal to define themselves by externals.

Thus, Tetzaveh and Purim coincide beautifully to teach us a fundamental lesson in parenting. Tetzaveh stresses the importance of dress and appearance in our everyday lives, whereas Purim reminds us that they do not define who we really are. The primary focus must be on developing, and appreciating, our inner selves.

Shabbat shalom and Purim sameach!


Rav Yossi Goldin is a teacher and administrator who teaches in a number of seminaries and yeshivot across Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at [email protected].

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