What is it about our clothing? For the High Priest in this week’s Torah portion, תצוה Tetzave, it is quite a production with 8 pieces of garments he was to wear when serving in the Mishkan and later, in the Temple.
Since G-d could have done anything, why were humans created without a fur, which would have been especially useful to me today in the lingering cold of NYC? However, even in places where the weather is perfect, we (humans) still wear something, if minimal. Early on, Adam and the Woman were naked. There was no shame and no covering needed. Then they made for themselves belts of fig leaves, which must have been somewhat flimsy. And the first set of “real clothing” were “garments made of skin” – or leather, given to them by G-d before the departure from Eden.
The Hebrew word for clothing – ב.ג.ד. – begged – is unique as it is made of the three consecutive letters: ב.ג.ד. bet, gimmel, dalet, the 2nd, 3rd & 4th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Where is the first, the א alef? The silent alef, which is often “G-d’s letter, is hidden. Our clothing can help us be who we are, as well as hide and present a false shell.
Numerous studies have been conducted on the influence of clothing on students. Those of us who served in any type of uniform, might find this interesting: Rabbi Hirsch connects ב.ג.ד. b.g.d. with פ.ק.ד. p.k.d, which he defines as “invest with purpose or responsibility”. From this root we create פקודה “pkuda”, an order or army command; and מפקד mefaked, a commander. Alternatively, if one does not fulfill their responsibility such as a soldier who “ditches” base, s/he will call נפקד “nifkad”, absent from fulfilling his appointment.
The Shabbat before Purim is known as שבת זכור – Shabbat Zachor – “Shabbat Remember”. It is when we read the instruction to remember what Amalek “did to you, on the way, when we left Egypt” (Deuteronomy 25:17). How is the journey from Egypt connect to the megillah? And what’s the meaning of a commandment to remember?
The latter, and we have a few (“remember Shabbat”!) implies that there might be a desire or tendency to forget (remember to take the keys!!…). Why would we forget Amalek? Who is Amalek?? Originally, they descended from Esau, Jacob’s brother, and were nomadic people who lived in Southern Canaan. In our history they are famous for sneaking up on us and attacking us “from behind” in the desert, while we are in transition, “on the way” (Exodus 17:8-16). Ever since, they became associated as the powers that weaken us. Our sages teach that the gematria (numerical value) of Amalek is equal to the Hebrew word safek, doubt. Amalek are not a head-on enemy, as is the element of doubt in our life. It is not always obviously bad; The plain bad we can recognize and fight. This is different. it’s that… well… you know… I don’t know… maybe… I’m not sure… then again… undermining things quietly, “from behind”.
In the Purim story, Haman is described as an Agagite (Esther 3:1), and Agag was the Amalekite king earlier on (Samuel I, 15). It’s unclear if Haman was a biological descendant or more an ideological one, or both. What’s important is how to combat this kind of energy. Interestingly, the one who fights it is Esther, and her method? No weapons and military tricks but “Go assemble all the Jews…” (Esther 4:16).
Purim could have been long forgotten, but the megillah survived. Maybe it comes to remind us that while Hamans will appear on our history stage, and we can’t prevent them from showing up, there is something we might be able to do about them. They can be overcome through our unity as a people. This means we look out for each other, the strong and weak, which really is each and every one of us at different moments along the journey. This also explains why each one of the mitzvot associated with Purim is geared towards our togetherness – giving mishloach manot (baskets of goodies) or gifts to the poor. Unity does not mean we all do the same thing all the time or agree on everything, but there’s enough commonality to maintain our “peoplehood”. The Shabbat of Remember is just that – re-member and reconnect with each and every one.