Thursday, December 17, 2020

Clothes, The Outer Garment of the Soul

 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

Also at

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, 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.”[8] 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

Friday, December 4, 2020

The Gift Giving Society

 The Gift Giving Society

At Jewish Newport

December 6, 2020

By Aaron Ginsburg

Thank you to Rabbi Marc Mandel, and Vicki Kaplan

Also at

P.S. gold star if you can read to the end!

Rabbi Marc Mandel of Touro Synagogue, Newport Rhode Island, shared a dvar with Jewish Newport, 

“There is a custom in many families to give gifts during Hanukkah.  How did this custom evolve? Some would say that with all the holiday gift advertising in the month of December, it's no accident that Hanukkah has joined the club. 

“But, what if the origin was from this week's Parsha, Vayishlach, which always falls around Hanukkah time? Yaakov is very nervous about his meeting with his brother Esau, especially when he hears that Esauis bringing an army with him.

“The Torah commentaries teach us that Yaakov prepared for this encounter in three ways: 1. He prepared for war; 2. He prayed;3. He sent gifts to his brother.  

“Gift giving is an ancient custom and it has many meanings, which is beyond the scope of this short Dvar Torah. But, perhaps, it can answer our question as to why we give gifts on Hanukkah during this time of year. 

“Happy Hanukkah and enjoy your gifts.”

Here is an excerpt from the parsha that shows Yaakov in a funk, afraid for his life and that of his family,and the loss of his possessions, planning to regain the favor of his brother.

וַיִּקַּ֞ח מִן־הַבָּ֧א בְיָד֛וֹ מִנְחָ֖ה לְעֵשָׂ֥ו אָחִֽיו׃ 

heHe selected from what was at hand these presents for his brother, Esau: 

עִזִּ֣ים מָאתַ֔יִם וּתְיָשִׁ֖ים עֶשְׂרִ֑ים רְחֵלִ֥ים מָאתַ֖יִם וְאֵילִ֥ים עֶשְׂרִֽים׃ 

200 she-goats and 20 he-goats; 200 ewes and 20 rams; 

גְּמַלִּ֧ים מֵינִיק֛וֹת וּבְנֵיהֶ֖ם שְׁלֹשִׁ֑ים פָּר֤וֹת אַרְבָּעִים֙ וּפָרִ֣ים עֲשָׂרָ֔ה אֲתֹנֹ֣ת עֶשְׂרִ֔ים וַעְיָרִ֖ם עֲשָׂרָֽה׃ 

30 milch camels with their colts; 40 cows and 10 bulls; 20 she-asses and 10 he-asses. 

וַיִּתֵּן֙ בְּיַד־עֲבָדָ֔יו עֵ֥דֶר עֵ֖דֶר לְבַדּ֑וֹ וַ֤יֹּאמֶר אֶל־עֲבָדָיו֙ עִבְר֣וּ לְפָנַ֔י וְרֶ֣וַח תָּשִׂ֔ימוּ בֵּ֥ין עֵ֖דֶר וּבֵ֥ין עֵֽדֶר׃ 

These he put in the charge of his servants, drove by drove, and he told his servants, “Go on ahead, and keep a distance between droves.” 

וַיְצַ֥ו אֶת־הָרִאשׁ֖וֹן לֵאמֹ֑ר כִּ֣י יִֽפְגָּשְׁךָ֞ עֵשָׂ֣ו אָחִ֗י וִשְׁאֵֽלְךָ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר לְמִי־אַ֙תָּה֙ וְאָ֣נָה תֵלֵ֔ךְ וּלְמִ֖י אֵ֥לֶּה לְפָנֶֽיךָ׃ 

He instructed the one in front as follows, “When my brother Esau meets you and asks you, ‘Whose man are you? Where are you going? And whose [animals] are these ahead of you?’ 

וְאָֽמַרְתָּ֙ לְעַבְדְּךָ֣ לְיַעֲקֹ֔ב מִנְחָ֥ה הִוא֙ שְׁלוּחָ֔ה לַֽאדֹנִ֖י לְעֵשָׂ֑ו וְהִנֵּ֥ה גַם־ה֖וּא אַחֲרֵֽינוּ׃ 

you shall answer, ‘Your servant Jacob’s; they are a gift sent to my lord Esau; and Yaakov himself is right behind us.’” 

וַיְצַ֞ו גַּ֣ם אֶת־הַשֵּׁנִ֗י גַּ֚ם אֶת־הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֔י גַּ֚ם אֶת־כָּל־הַהֹ֣לְכִ֔ים אַחֲרֵ֥י הָעֲדָרִ֖ים לֵאמֹ֑ר כַּדָּבָ֤ר הַזֶּה֙ תְּדַבְּר֣וּן אֶל־עֵשָׂ֔ו בְּמֹצַאֲכֶ֖ם אֹתֽוֹ׃ 

He gave similar instructions to the second one, and the third, and all the others who followed the droves, namely, “Thus and so shall you say to Esau when you reach him. 

וַאֲמַרְתֶּ֕ם גַּ֗ם הִנֵּ֛ה עַבְדְּךָ֥ יַעֲקֹ֖ב אַחֲרֵ֑ינוּ כִּֽי־אָמַ֞ר אֲכַפְּרָ֣ה פָנָ֗יו בַּמִּנְחָה֙ הַהֹלֶ֣כֶת לְפָנָ֔י וְאַחֲרֵי־כֵן֙ אֶרְאֶ֣ה פָנָ֔יו אוּלַ֖י יִשָּׂ֥א פָנָֽי׃ 

And you shall add, ‘And your servant Yaakov himself is right behind us.’” For he reasoned, “If I propitiate him with presents in advance, and then face him, perhaps he will show me favor.” 

This is a family reunion that might not go well. Esau had plenty of reason to be angry; Jacob stole his birthright. But we don’t know what Esau was thinking. Perhaps he was bearing gifts for Jacob.

Why do people give gifts? It seems like someone should write a book about it. I took an intro to Anthropology course at NYU from Professor Colin Turnbull. I still have a few of the books he assigned, including “The Gift, Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies” by Marcel Mauss. 

Marcel Mauss lived from 1872-1950. He was Jewish and was born in Epinal, Vosges, France. His mother’s brother, Emile Durkeim, founded sociology as a subject for academic study. His cousin Claudette was the mother of Maurice Bloch, who is noted for his work in cultural anthropology. Bloch and Turnbull, my professor, both studied people in Africa, Bloch the peasants of central Imerina and the Zafimaniry people who lived in a remote forest, both in Madagascar; Turnbull, the pygmies in Zaire and the Ik in Uganda. On his first trip to Africa, Turnbull got a job from producer Sam Spiegel helping to build the boat for the film “The African Queen.”

Turnbull was also interested in music, and his recordings of Mbuti music have been released on Smithsonian Folkway as, ”Mbuti Pygmies of Ituri Rainforest.”  Now that sounds like a catchy title. If you have Amazon Prime, you can stream it for free.  For example, Bachelor duet with Lukembi

“The Gift” was first published in 1925 in a magazine, and republished as a book in 1950. An English translation, which I have, was published in 1954 with a nice introduction by E. E. Evans-Pritchard, a prominent British social anthropologist. Pritchard points out that Mauss’s vast knowledge of languages, including Russian, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit Celtic Hebrew, other modern European languages, and the languages and cultures of Oceania (Micronesia) enabled him to compare many different cultures without leaving France. Sometimes he was able to understand field reports better than the original researchers.

In the first chapter, Gifts and the Obligation to Return Gifts, he contends that even where a gift in theory is voluntary, “in fact they are given and repaid under obligation.” He also says that before we had a modern, impersonal economy, people traded items by giving gifts, a “gift economy”.  He presents several examples, including the Maori and the Native Americans of Northwest America.

In the latter, in a ceremony called potlatch, wealthy members of  tribes that lived along the coast of Alaska and British Columbia gave gifts or even destroyed items to demonstrate their status and wealth. The system predated the use of money or barter. You had to be invited to a potlatch, and by accepting the invitation you were accepting the obligation to reciprocate either by a potlatch or a gift. Elaborate ceremonies involved many people. 

If you received something, you were accepting a future obligation or a challenge to give more than you received. This was a form of interest without using money. We might think of loans and interest as modern innovations, but that is incorrect. The words are new, but the idea is not.

Mauss analyzed so-called “primitive” societies and looked for applications in modern society. Theoretically, we believe that our economy is not a gift economy, but is that correct?

Mauss says, “In...our social life...we must always return more than we receive. He points out by French social insurance the community attempts to repay a worker for his service to an employer with “a certain security in his life against unemployment, sickness, old age and death,”  and that this is owed in addition to wages from his employer. Other examples are the philanthropy of the wealthy which is an obligation of their wealth. When we go to a party, there is an unwritten expectation that we will bring a gift, or that we will reciprocate with a party of our own.

He points out that “the rich man’s expenditure on luxury, art, servants and extravagances recall the expenditure of the nobleman of former times or the savage chiefs whose customs” he described. In all of this, do we do things because they are useful or are we trying to show our status and obligate others to respond in kind? There is often an unwritten expectation at a wedding, for example,that the gifts will equal the cost of the affair.

“We contend,” he concludes, “that the best economic procedure is not to be found in the calculation of individual needs. I believe that we must become... something more than better financiers, accountants and administrators. The mere pursuit of individual ends is harmful to the ends and peace of the whole, to the rhythm of its work and pleasures, and hence in the end to the individual.”

A gift, or any transaction includes an obligation, and that is what makes the world go round. Yaakov was aware of the obligation a gift imposes, and he hoped Esau was too.

Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!

If your Esau is approaching, have your gifts ready!