The Piety of Aesthetics and the Spiritual Practice of Matching

Every morning as I’m getting dressed, I look in my basket of kippot to select the kippah that most matches my outfit for the day. Sometimes, it’s the light green, burgundy, and white one that goes with my burgundy and white gingham button down that I wear with a light green a-line shirt underneath. Sometimes, I’m wearing all black and choose the bright yellow kippah for contrast. On Shabbat, I always wear one of my white (often with a hint of purple) kippot.

Every morning when I put on my kippah, I say the first two lines of the Sh’ma and the blessing giving thanks for being made in God’s image.

This has been a powerful spiritual practice for me, affirming my connection with God every morning by making my public expression of piety an aesthetic choice. While these are the formalized moments of ritual-marking for me, I have come to realize that the act of matching and the experience of matching my clothes to my kippah have also become part of my spiritual practice.

In L’cha dodi, the liturgical poem Jewish communities often sung during Kabbalat Shabbat services, we sing, “Hitna’ari me’afar kumi; livshi bigdei tifartekh ami/Wake yourself up from the dust, get up! Dress, my people, in the garments of your splendor!” When I sing these words, I am reminded of the sacred potential of clothes. When I am dressed in ways that affirm who I am, I am more deeply able to live into the gratitude of my morning blessing—sh’asani b’tzalmo—that God make me in God’s image. With my kippah as the physical marker that I place on top of my head to remind of this, the matching clothes below my head serve as an aesthetic extension of the divine blessing above. My clothes and my kippah are markers of God’s handiwork. I am dressed in the garments of splendor—the splendor of God’s image!

At Sinai, just before the Israelites receive Torah, they receive what may seem like a surprising command. “Va’yomer HaShem el Moshe, ‘Lech el ha’am v’kidashtam ha’yom u’machar v’chibsu simlotam’”/“HaShem said to Moshe, ‘Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow and they shall wash their clothing’” (Exodus 19:10). To receive Torah, to experience God’s presence so intensely, the Israelites need clean clothes. Since the reason for this this is not entirely clear, I believe it is an invitation to wonder and to imagine.

I wonder if the ancient Israelites also knew God’s presence more intimately when dressed in ways that affirmed their deepest sense of self.

I wonder if wearing clothes that make us feel good and affirmed in our bodies and souls make for deeper revelations of Torah.

I imagine Sinai full of femmes, butches, genderqueers, tznius children, revealing elders, and all sorts of folks dressed in ways that affirm the image of the Divine in countless ways.

In addition to affirming being made in the Divine image as part of our morning blessings, we also recite, Baruch atah Adonai eloheynu, melech ha’olam, malbish arumim/Blessed are You, Adonai our God, sovereign of the universe, clothing the naked.

Thank you, God, for the holy experiment of fashioning our bodies with clothing to more clearly reflect our souls and Your divinity.

 

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