In a discussion of clothing, it is easy to point to the story of Adam and Chava (Hebrew for Eve) with their famous fig leaf covering, shamefully worn after the having eaten the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. The story goes, that after that fateful moment, they discovered not that they were naked, rather the shame of their nakedness. Is this why we dress today; shame? The secular hedonist may argue that the Torah story is a parable created to encourage people to get dressed.
Nakedness, the hedonist may add, is freedom from restriction, represents boundlessness, bravery, comfort with one’s self. Is there a moral reason that one should not buck the establishment on this issue? Throw off the system? Overturn The Man? Isn’t boundless, shameless nakedness the ideal state? Societal laws and norms perhaps restrict us, make us dress for work, and school, but is it justified? Is society too traditionally bound to the Adam and Eve story? Should the religious monuments of clothing come down in the public area? Are most secular hedonists offended by this ‘forced’ Biblical modesty? If so, where are the protests and parades? There haven’t been too many anti-religionists naked at work lately.
While the point may be extreme, society indeed, has a love-hate relationship with clothing. In certain beach-bound areas of the world, bikinis and heels are the norm on the street, as minimalist as it may appear. More extreme attitudes toward lack of clothing exist in areas around the equator, where nakedness may bear no shame, similar to early Eden.
But this is happening in America too. After all, with the click of a button, nakedness is notoriously normal, accepted, and unabashed. What is the problem? Is there a higher meaning to clothing, and the areas which they cover most of the time?
For those who are not currently clothes-less on a full-time basis, and have begrudgingly accepted the basic societal norms of covering one's body in public, one must truly ask ‘Why?” Surely, the secular hedonist doesn’t accept the idea of Biblical shame. Does secular shame exist in the ‘free-minded’ scientific world, or has the divorce of modernity from religion widened the dress-code gap? There is no rational explanation for covering sexually associated organs specifically, per se. And the combination of internet, iPhones and alcohol are turning nakedness into an acceptable Western norm.
Yet, is there any spirituality in the world of physical clothing? Let’s see. Energy equals mass times the square of the speed of light (E=mc2). This means that any mass (even clothing) is energy at its core. After all, the Big Bang started with pure energy that expanded, hardened and became the physicality of the universe. Thus, clothing, in this world of mass, has its roots in the world of pure energy–the spiritual world.
Enter Torah, where clothing is indeed a conscious expression of higher worlds, not a simple fashion statement, not even a covering to fit into societal norms. Additionally, every physical expression in this world (Olam Ha’zeh) corresponds to a spiritual expression in the world of truth (Olam Ha’Emet), which is the next world. At a most basic level, clothing, or, in Hebrew, bEgEd, is rooted in the letters, bet gimel dalet, implying trickery. The word bOgEd means to deceive. And, at a basic level, clothing, indeed, is not the true self. It is merely an expression of the self at an external level.
At best it is an opaque mirror of the self, but the Torah takes it further.
Our mystical tradition teaches that clothing comes from the aspect of “Chashmalim.” This literally translates in Modern Hebrew as “electricities,” yet, the ancient definition of Chasmal is a type of angel that is intermittently quiet (‘chash’) or speaking (‘mal’), according to the Rambam. The name implies an oscillating back and forth unseen entity, this idea is well known in science, where electrons, protons and neutrons oscillate in and out of a virtual reality. In the Torah description of this reality, the Chashmalim ‘dress’ and surround the world of Adam Kadmon (lit. Primordial Reflection of the Infinite), which is the highest spiritual world before the Infinite, yet that which mirrors the highest Infinite Light; it is the world from which the earthly human was modeled, according to Kabbalah.
Adam (commonly translated as ‘human’) is derived from the root letters ‘aleph’ referring to the Aluf or Expert and the letters dalet & mem, implying dam (Hebrew for “blood”) as well as domeh meaning “resemble.” Putting that together, the human resembles the expert Creator, and is indeed flowing with the blood of the expert Creator, despite the fact that the Infinite has no body. Yet it is not our body that resembles the expert Creator, rather our intellect, extrapolated from Adam Kadmon, projected light onto the microscopic Earth stage in human form.
In that vein, when people get dressed every day, humans mimic the world of Adam Kadmon, and connect to those energies of the Chashmalim, to which the Infinite Creator endowed very unique powers to dress us. The more consciously and strategically the Jew covers his or herself, the more the Jew connects to encompassing energy of the Chashmalim, the world of Adam Kadmon, and, ultimately, the Unified Infinite Creator bearing the Ineffable Holy Name. Surely, when the Children of Israel display clean clothing, the sanctification of the Holy Name is further enhanced and praised.
And, certainly, there are levels of bodily coverings. Though the human is covered in hair, the hair which emanates from the head has special significance. The head is considered the holiest area of the body, housing our inner chochmah-male wisdom, binah-female understanding and the highest level of da’at- a combined male-female knowledge given by the Creator. From this holy place, emanates the hair on top of the head over the brain, which is likened by our Sages to the Holy of Holies of the original Temple in Jerusalem. Yet, despite hairs’ highest origins, once external, scalp hair represents strict and harsh judgements (gevurot) in the mystical tradition. According to the Torah, strict judgments are always derived from the highest level of love from the Infinite.
Thus, Jews are encouraged to limit exposure to, to tie, and to cover their scalp hair, whether men after the age of 3, or women after marriage. The hair of the head, having such holy spiritual roots, yet manifesting as external judgements, can be compared with (l’havdil) to having $5 million dollars in one’s pocket. Typically, in that case one would not even let the corner of such a stack of heavy bills even peek out one’s pocket, giving no hint to his wealth. Similarly in some ways, gazing at the physical counterpart of human wisdom on top of the head can be problematic.
Pondering the hair on another's head may manifest in judgments on both sides, despite their roots in innate holiness. Scholars of the mystical teachings of Torah point out that staring at the hair of others may even extract and deplete the head’s spiritual energies, by virtue of the external gaze itself. This is a particularly acute risk for women’s immense power, as men tend to fall into the temptation of extracting spiritual energies from women’s hair, by gazing at it. This lock-stare can lead to strict judgments at many levels and for both sides, if it’s outside of a marital relationship. Thus, Torah places a strong emphasis on covering one’s head and/or keeping one's scalp hair short, as unseen as possible.
In contrast, the beard, an external reflection of higher spiritual wisdom emanating from the face represents chassadim (kindnesses) according to the mystical tradition. The beard is considered like ‘beams of light,’ a visual form of chochmah, or wisdom, yet projected in the externals of kindness.
This parallels the Infinite Creator whose infinite wisdom formed the universe, yet whose physical manifestation of that wisdom is in chesed (kindness–or unconditional giving), and does not require covering, rather the opposite. In the case of beards, these types of kindnesses of a woman are internal and channeled in various other spiritual actions. This reflects a general Kabbalistic concept: male energies are superficially external, while female energies are deeply internal.
The remainder of the external, hair covered, and physical body also possesses certain holiness–though at various levels- and represents other manifestations in the upper worlds. Most obviously, the intimate area must be covered by virtue of the fact that it represents the foundation (yesod) of creation where reproduction occurs and a man and woman can connect to the Infinite Creator in the most profound of ways. Again, in this case as well men, physically speaking, are superficially external, whereas women are deeply internal, reflecting their corresponding spiritual worlds.
Thus, it is important to keep the body’s intimate area covered thoroughly at all times, except during those most intimate of connections between husband and wife. Surely the remainder of the body is holy, and commands the definition of ‘nakedness’ to one degree or another, depending on how close to the torso it is. The torso of the human represents the divine emanation of balanced beauty (tiferet). The feet are the least in holiness, as are hands, as useful as they are, since they both are frequently dirtied, requiring constant re-purification throughout the day with ritual washing. During Temple times, the Kohen (Jewish priest) washed the uncleanliness off of both hands and feet. This ritual is about to return with the upcoming building of the Third Temple.
When all is said and done, the body has intrinsic holiness, and, as with anything holy in this physical world, its covering has vast spiritual implications. What the secular purist may have right is that, in the ideal world, nakedness represents a paradise of sorts, as Adam and Chava (Eve) originally enjoyed. Yet, until Jews rectify the original pre-shame sin via Torah and mitzvoth, Israel and the world are not quite there yet. Until then, Israel and the world must patiently wait–fully and beautifully clothed–until the Infinite Redeemer redeems us all from the shame of duality. May the imminent and urgent Unification occur at the next click.