I just saw a movie about a Hasidic family and was quite taken with the style of dress.
Streimel, special topcoat, kittel, stockings (they were Bobovers*), women’s dress governed by principles of modesty, all served to create a complete sense of who they were, expressed by their distinct manner of dress. One wonders if clothes make the man or if the man makes the clothes. Phillip Roth asked this question in his short story “Eli the Fanatic.” As Eli dons the religious garb of the man he planned to push from the community, the clothing begins the transformation of Eli into the very orthodoxy the modern community is rebelling against.
I think we liberal Jews need uniforms too. Not that we do not have them. We dress in the uniform of the greater society in which we live. We have suits and ties, lab coats, cocktail gowns, jeans and t-shirts, flip-flops, side-ways baseball caps and the like. And we adopt the actions of those conventions we wear. So what if we wore things that reflected other aspirations? What would happen if we surrounded ourselves in uniforms that proclaimed we belonged to tzedakah, grace, compassion and good deeds? Our more observant brothers and sisters wear tzitzit to remind them of the mitzvoth and sheitels for tzniut (modesty). What happens when we start dressing a bit more Jewish? What might it look like and how might we change?
*The Bobovers are a Hasidic sect originating in Bobowa, Poland
Exodus 25 gives us detailed instructions on the finishing of the Ark of the Covenant and in doing so provides extraordinary metaphor for us to embrace and understand the nature of community and what it means to be in relationship.
We are told to place the Tablets of the Covenant, given by God, into the Ark, which is finished in the most precious of earthly materials, gold. The top of the Ark is not only to be finished in gold, but it is to be capped by figures of two cherubs also made of gold. They are to be facing each other with wings outstretched to each other and protecting the cover.
“There I will meet you,” says God, in the space in between the two cherubim.
These extraordinary words help us understand that relationships are at the heart of all we do. The cherubim represent us reaching out to each other. When we do this, standing upon the Law, God is present. We can build our relationships both with God and each other on a holy foundation and thereby, our relationships become sacred.
And deposit in the Ark [the tablets of] the Pact, which I will give you.
You shall make a cover of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. Make two cherubim of gold — make them of hammered work — at the two ends of the cover. Make one cherub at one end and the other cherub at the other end; of one piece with the cover shall you make the cherubim at its two ends.
The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They shall confront each other, the faces of the cherubim being turned toward the cover.
Place the cover on top of the Ark, after depositing inside the Ark the Pact that I will give you.
There I will meet with you, and I will impart to you — from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Pact — all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people.
I want to share with you a story about my new friend Tony.
Tony and I met on a New York City street corner a couple of weeks ago. He was leaning against a phone booth, cane in hand with a disheveled look about him. I was walking past him on my way to someplace else and I caught him say, “ Could you help me out? I’m hungry. Anything would help.” I decided a while ago that I would not hand out money to people on the street, but I would also try not to let a request for food go unanswered. I did something that brought both Tony and I to a new place together.
Instead of pointing Tony to the hot dog vendor with a dollar, I asked him what he would like to eat. Tony seemed at first startled, and then replied, “A cheeseburger.” To which I then asked, “Where do you get one around here?” Tony nodded toward the deli a couple of doors away from where we were standing. “Let’s go,” I said. As we walked, Tony thanked me a couple of times. We went to the grill chef and Tony ordered. He cautiously asked if he could get something to drink and I responded with “Well you have to wash it down with something, of course.” He came back with a diet Pepsi, as we started to talk, I learned Tony’s diabetes kept him from getting something with sugar in it. He shared some of his story and I shared a bit of mine as well. Tony said the Doctors at the hospital took good care of his ailments, but once they were done, he was back on the street. But that was okay since the hospital food was lousy. However, the burgers here were great. Tony then wanted to know if I was ordering a burger too.
We parted at the check out counter. Tony was on his way to the dining area to enjoy his meal, and I was off to do my thing. I was taken by the sense of empowerment Tony seemed to have by the simple act of being able to choose his meal. I doubt I changed Tony’s life, but he had a profound impact on mine; in that moment we met as two real people sharing ourselves with each other. For me that was a lovely gift.
Welcome to my blog that I affectionately call Sayings of the Radmal. My name is David M Levin and I am a newly ordained rabbi (hence the name R-D-M-L). I am what is called a “second career” rabbi, which means I had a career before deciding to embark on this one, and it also means I am a bit older than most freshly minted rabbis. This blog will be a collection of “thoughts and musings” I want to share as I progress along the journey that is my rabbinate. Hopefully these “thoughts and musings” will stimulate thought and conversation and possibly incite you to action. And sometimes, they may even amuse. I hope you find something meaningful here.