Clothes, The Outer Garment of the Soul
At Jewish Newport
December 12, 2020
By Aaron Ginsburg
Thanks to Rabbi Marc Mandel; edited by Vicki Kaplan
Rabbi Marc Mandel of Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island shared a dvar Torah with Jewish Newport,
“Mark Twain once said, ‘Clothes make a man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.’ Little did he realize that this was the theme of this week's Parsha, Vayeshev. It was the beautiful garment that his father gave him that helped propel Joseph on an amazing journey. But it was a long journey. Shortly after Joseph received this beautiful garment from his father, he found himself naked in a pit. Suddenly, like Twain said, he was a person without influence.
“When Joseph was sold as a slave, he once again had his clothes back, and he was able to become a very successful manager for his owner. In fact his owner gave him almost complete reign over his household. But soon Joseph would find himself again without any clothes, as he struggled to extricate himself from the grasp of his owner's wife, who wanted to sleep with him. Once again, he was a man without clothes, with no influence, in jail.
“Rabbeinu Bahya writes on the Parsha that, ‘The body is perceived as the outer garment of the soul. The kind of garment one wears is somehow related to the body underneath it just as the body is related to the soul within it.’ Is this what Mark Twain meant? Not sure about that, but certainly, Twain could have given a great sermon on the Parsha.”
About Jewish Newport
A dvar by Rabbi Marc Mandel, which often starts with the weekly Torah Portion, provides the inspiration. Since Covid started, sometimes I think of a topic after reviewing the torah portion, and ask Rabbi Mandel to write a dvar with that in mind. I try to find items that are interesting and, more often than not, off beat or fun. An image provides some pzazz! Along the way an editor cleans up my copy and makes suggestions.
During the Covid era, Rabbi Mandel discusses the weekly parsha on Friday afternoon, leading us through commentaries available on sefaria.org, an online Jewish reference for religious literature.
I was spacing out during last Friday’s session when I heard, “Clothes are the outer garment of the soul.” It sounded profound!. “Just what Jewish Newport needs,” I thought. “And how can anyone not be interested in clothes?”
Poland and France
Mark Twain was following in the steps of Shakespeare. In Hamlet, Polonius gave his son, Laertes, some fatherly advice about how to behave during a trip to France,
“Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.”
If Polonius thought that the French were better dressed, he probably had a field day comparing English and French cooking!
Polonius is Latin for Polish or a Polish man. Shakespeare had probably read an English translation of: “De optimo senatore, a book on statesmanship by the Polish courtier Wawrzyniec Grzymała Goślicki, which was widely read after it was translated into English and published in 1598 under the title The Counsellor.” Goslicki was a Polish statesman and bishop educated in Kraków's Jagiellonian University and at Padua and Bologna.
Goslki was the only Catholic clergyman who agreed to the Warsaw Convention of 1573, which guaranteed religious tolerance in Poland. King Sigismund II Augustus had died without an heir. Henry of Anjou, brother of the king of France, was under consideration by the Sejm.
Henry had helped organize the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. The massacre began with the killing of Huguenot (Calvinist) leaders in Paris and became a riot that lead to the murder of thousands more Huguenots throughout France. The Huguenot leaders were in Paris for the wedding of fellow Huguenot Henry of Navarre to Margaret of Valois, daughter of Henry II of France and Catherine de' Medici. The wedding took place in Paris on 18 August 1572 on the parvis (forecourt) of Notre Dame Cathedral; the massacres began on August 24.
In 1569 Poland had combined with Lithuania to create the Polish-Lithanian Commonwealth. In addition to Catholics and Protestants, there were many Jews and also Muslims in the Commonwealth. Many Polish nobles were Protestant, and they feared a Polish St Bartholomew’s Day massacre.
The Warsaw Convention specified that any ruler should, “vow to preserve the general peace between people sundered and differing in faith and worship.” A delegation traveled to France to make sure Henry agreed to the terms. He did, and became the first elected King of Poland.
Henry was King of the Polish-Lithanian Commonwealth for two years. When Henry’s brother King Charles IX of France died in 1574 he inherited the French throne. He left for France to become Henry III. When he failed to return to Poland the throne was declared vacant.
There was a culture clash between Henry and the Poles. Henry was shocked by the weather and the rural poverty in Poland. The Poles wondered if everyone in France was as concerned with clothes as Henry was. Polonius knew what he was talking about. In the sixteenth century, being a well dressed guy would only get you so far!
Henry did bring some innovations back to France from Poland, including septic systems, baths that include controls for hot and cold water, and, speaking of food, forks.
Henry was assassinated in 1589. His Huguenot cousin, Henry of Navarre, who became Henry IV, succeeded him. To cement his rule Henry became Catholic. He also promulgated the Edict of Nantes, which granted religious toleration to the Huegonots. The edict was repealed by his grandson, Louis XIV in 1685. As a result, 400,000 Huguenots fled France.
From Poles to Clothes
That's enough about Poles. Let’s close with clothes.
We’ve learned that being well dressed affects the people around you. But does it affect you? I know I feel better when I dress up.
Psychologists have their sly ways of testing theories. In one experiment, people were asked to wear a lab coat. Half were told they were wearing a doctor's clothes; the other half were told they wore a house painter’s smock. Sure enough, the “doctors’ ” performance was better in attention-related tasks. “Clothes oft make the man” is a two-way street.
Psychologist Carolyn Mair, author of “The Psychology of Fashion” put it this way in an email message to NBC NEWS,
“Unless we’re naked, our appearance is mainly made up of our clothing. Therefore, clothing is fundamental in how we are perceived. In turn, this affects our sense of self-worth and ultimately, how we see ourselves compared with others, our self-esteem.
“Feeling of lack of control is one of life’s biggest stressors. Accepting that there are things we can’t control is helpful and controlling what we can, such as getting dressed, provides a sense of control.”
If you feel like getting dressed up, even if you don’t go out, indulge yourself. You will look better, and you will feel better.
Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!
About the photo: Alyssa Perez, left rear; Julia Gonzales, right rear; and Kevin Alvarez, foreground, all students at the Academy of Careers and Technologies Charter School in San Antonio, Texas, model their creations exhibited in the "Hats Off to Fiesta!" event, sponsored by the University of Texas at San Antonio's Institute of Texan Cultures, as part of the month-long Fiesta San Antonio celebration Photographer: Highsmith, Carol M., 1946-; Library of Congress