Drash on Achrei Mot: Leviticus 16:1-18:30
This week’s Torah portion begins with the description of the sacral vestments Aaron is to wear when he enters the Holy of Holies. And he is to bathe before he clothes himself in these sacral vestments. Commentators have pointed out that, Yes, clothes do make the man.
Indeed they do. They make the woman, as well. Clothes are a way of defining ourselves and our occupation: when we go to work we usually wear clothes that are neater than we might wear for gardening. For gardening we might wear clothes that are more comfortable, and suitable for digging in dirt. When we exercise we wear clothes that stretch easily and can be washed and dried quickly. And for praying, we Jews might wear a tallit and kippah.
We have a special prayer we say when we wrap ourselves in a tallit, when we prepare to pray: Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with commandments and commands us to wrap ourselves in tzitzit — the fringes at the four corners of the tallit.
Lately I’ve been doing mindfulness meditations, which seem very similar to our Jewish idea of Kavanah: the intention with which we pray. When we are fully cognizant of what we are doing, when we have intention in our actions, we can bring our full consciousness to the moment. That is what our prayers do, make us mindful of the moment: the prayer for putting on a tallit; the prayer for seeing a tree in bloom; the prayer for seeing a rainbow; the prayer for waking up and for going to sleep and before and after eating. We have a prayer for nearly everything! My rabbi, Elaine Zecher, likes to tell the story of meeting (I think it was) President Barak Obama, and how glad she was to be able to say the prayer for seeing a head of state.
It seems to me that dressing ourselves is the first step in bringing this intentionality – kavennah – to everything we do. If we are aware, as we dress, of the occasion for these clothes, if we will are in that moment, then we will be that person: if we are at work, we will be more efficient; if we are gardening, we will be more appreciative; if we are praying, we might be drawn closer to Holiness.
May we each take the time to bring our full consciousness to our actions.