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Finding Meaning: Fashion, Empowerment, and Showing Up

December 31, 2018

There are moments that we wish to hold onto forever. Moments to honor, to acknowledge, to reminisce about for years to come. And it’s in our nature to want to mark them with something tangible. A handmade silk dress for walking down the aisle, a beautiful watch for a hard-earned promotion. Something that will honor the moment and also survive it. Something that will remain when a fleeting point in time has passed. Not only is this in our nature as human beings, but it is also an unexpected facet of Jewish tradition.

Let us begin by traveling back some ways, to the official engagement of Rivka the Matriarch to Yitzchak, son of Avraham. It was Eliezer, Avraham’s right-hand man, who orchestrated the match, and he celebrated by gifting the new bride golden bracelets, a nose ring, and fine clothing. Since then, adornment and beauty have been a marker of meaningful moments, a means of celebration, an acknowledgment of achievement or joy. Furthermore, these gifts sent the clear message that the engagement of Yitzchak and Rivka was an event of great importance, of long-bearing significance to the formation of the Jewish nation, and that moments such as this deserve an external marker as well as an emotional and spiritual one.

And so it continued through Jewish history. From the purple drapery of the Tabernacle to the golden bells that adorned the garment of the High Priest, external finery matched the spiritual ecstasy within. In the times of the Talmud, a custom emerged to gift one’s family with beautiful clothing before the Jewish holidays, indicating that these celebrations were moments of deep spiritual joy and importance, sending the message that we show up in our service of God with all the best of what we have. The Talmud did not look down upon the simple human joy of giving and receiving beautiful things. Instead, the sages made this joy part of the holy celebration, adding pleasure and generosity to the holiday rituals.

In 11th century texts, we find mention of the first known Keter Torah, or sterling silver Torah crown, which is still used in many congregations today. It serves no practical purpose but to adorn and beautify the Sefer Torah, the treasure and heart of every Jewish community. Draped in velvet with golden embroidery, the way the Torah is “dressed” is a true expression of our values, of what we believe matters most.

This strong Jewish tradition of adorning what is precious, of celebrating with beauty, continues today. It is a way to show love, to show up for the people, events, and principles we hold dear. Whether it is dressing elegantly for Shabbat or a holiday, or gifting a friend with a lovely scarf when she would never choose to spoil herself, these gestures indicate on an intimate level what and who matters most. Just as we bring holiness and beauty to our world, we can reflect that holiness ourselves, celebrating our unique role in this special work. With beauty, we honor the treasures and hearts of our families and communities, and we honor our own contributions to the betterment of our time.

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