by Reb Gutman Locks on Mystical Paths
A reader asked:
I always pray for my family, why do I need tefillin? Why do you wear a hat and jacket? Why the kippa?
First I will answer you in a way that you will understand. Then, I will give you the real reason.
If you love someone very much, and you ask him (or her) to do something for you, and at the same time he asks you to do something for him, how would it be if you refuse him? Could you expect him to keep doing what you ask even though you refuse to do what he wants? You are praying that G-d will bless your family, but you are questioning His commandments. It seems sensible to put tefillin on, if for no other reason than you keep asking Him to bless your family.
Obviously, the primary reason we do mitzvahs is because G-d told us to do them. But there are many other wonderful reasons to do them. For instance, when we do a mitzvah we say a blessing that reminds us that mitzvahs make us holy. I cannot think of a better reason than this. What could be more wonderful than becoming holy?
But there is even more that happens when we put on tefillin. Tefillin remind us of G-d’s commandments. They identify us as Jews. They give us a physical act to express our love for G-d, and His Torah. On and on, there are so many wonderful reasons (read: benefits) to do a mitzvah.
But what about the kippa? The rabbis invented kippas. Or, did they?
Hashem told Moshe, “You shall make vestments of sanctity (holy garments) for Aaron (the Priests) …for glory and splendor….”[i]
Today the Temple is not standing. Our prayers and other acts have to fill in for the lack of the Temple service. For instance, our Shabbos tables have to be arranged so they help to replace that missing service. We have to conduct ourselves in a holy way at the Shabbos table, two loaves of bread to remind us of the double portion of manna for Shabbos, they are dipped in salt to remind us of the sacrifices, we wash our hands to remind us of the priestly purity required, words of Torah, wine as was offered with the sacrifices, and on, and on.
So too, like the kohen, we must we dress in a holy way. The rabbis instituted the custom that all Jewish men should wear a head covering, but they did not invent the idea. They merely brought the Torah into our lives. The kohanim wore head covers. It is wise to take advantage of all of the tools that we have.
As for the hat and coat, if you live in a community where the righteous people wear sandals, shorts, and tee-shirts, then this is perfectly acceptable.
But there are advantages to wearing a “religious” hat and coat. Our clothes protect us. If we dress like immodest people, we can soon act like them. It would be very uncomfortable for a man in a black hat and coat to go to a “mixed” beach.
We usually dress on the outside like we feel inside. So our clothes can be a statement. Surely others judge us by the way we look. Actually, our clothing is likened to our deeds. This is why it is a custom to buy new clothing for the New Year, implying that we are going to do new and better deeds in the coming year.
Obviously, the bottom line is what we do, and not how we look. But we are told to avoid even the appearance of sin. So, we see that what we wear can be important.
[i] Exodus 28:2, 4, 40