What we’re wearing: In our closets, a reminder of what makes us human

Micah Gill, Staff Columnist

During a Model Congress practice in early February, co-captains Boaz Willis and Daniel Soroudi prompted their award-winning debaters to search the Internet for quotes that could further the team’s already perpetual debate success.

Although I didn’t exactly follow the directions, I stumbled upon this: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society” – Mark Twain. 

In today’s day and age, the conversations about clothing in which I engage often take a similar form: Person A pontificates about how if I dedicated half as much time to following the news as I did to my outfit on Shabbos morning, then maybe I’d be able to keep up at the Friday night Shabbos table. Person A is often Shalhevet Board President Larry Gill, who happens to be my father, on occasion.

Well Dad, Mark Twain just joined our conversation…and took my side.

The fundamental idea of clothing in any society rests upon the premise that one’s nakedness is “inappropriate.” Sure, clothing serves as an outlet for creativity and individuality, but at its most basic level, clothes exist so men and women don’t roam the streets with their baby-makers in plain sight.

On that note, let’s turn to the Torah. Sefer Breishit, telling the story of creation, describes Eve falling to her curiosity and human intuition, plucking a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and committing the original sin. At that moment, “The eyes of [Adam and Eve] were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves girdles.” (Genesis 3:7)

It’s easy to overlook, but one must ask: weren’t they naked the entire time – as in, from the moment Eve was created out of Adam’s rib, almost a full chapter earlier? Why didn’t Adam and Eve notice their nakedness the moment they were created? And furthermore – to strengthen the question – the first thing Adam and Eve do after plunging humanity into millions of years of sin is worry about covering up? What is all this about?

The explanation for these puzzling verses is simple: Adam and Eve were becoming human.

In today’s world, knowledge is an invaluable commodity. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to acquire it, we do our best to demonstrate that we possess it, and we never stop trying to gain more of it. However, we often forget that in a perfect world – a Gan Eden(Garden of Eden) world, if you will – man did not possess even an iota of knowledge.

Before taking the fruit off the tree, Eve wasn’t quite human, at least by today’s standards. Among many other things, she didn’t possess knowledge, and therefore didn’t have the capacity for self-consciousness; she and Adam would frolic around their garden without a care in the world. However, the sin led to knowledge, knowledge led to self-consciousness, and self-consciousness led directly to the necessity to cover up. And we’ve arrived at clothing.

Contrary to widespread belief, clothing is not a symbol of decadence, opulence, or high-strung members of society wasting money. In fact, it is the single most human “thing” that exists on this earth.

When Mark Twain says, “Naked people have little or no influence on society,” he isn’t simply making a joke. He is saying that clothes are inherently and inextricably linked to humanity – and not just humanity, but humanity at its most fundamental level. Quite simply, being human means getting dressed every morning.

In that case, why not dress as best you can?