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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa 5773

Ein Ayah: Focus on the Correct Benefit

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 9:258)

Gemara: “David got up and severed the corner of Shaul’s cloak surreptitiously” (Shmuel II:24:4). Rabbi Yossi ben Chanina said: Whoever disgraces clothing will ultimately not benefit from them, as the pasuk says: “King David was old, and they covered him with clothes and they did not warm him up” (Melachim I:1:1).

 

Ein Ayah: There are certain things that bring benefit to mankind in two different ways: in a simple physical manner that may be similar to the benefit for an animal and in a manner that is unique to man due to his high spirit. It is proper to always remember that the fundamental benefit is the one that relates to man as a higher being.

One of the purposes of clothing is to protect man from cold. This is the type of benefit that could apply to animals as well. Actually, in this regard, animals have an advantage, as they are more protected by their hide and their fur, whereas man needs something external.

However, mankind has another benefit from clothes, in that they are a means of bringing him honor (see Shabbat 113a). The fact that man specifically is honored by clothes has to do with his intellectual superiority. A person’s realization of man’s superiority over animals is important to encourage him to preserve his special qualities and act in a refined and proper manner. This should remind him that because he has an elevated status, he needs to make sure not to get involved in behavior that lowers man to the level of the animals. It is, therefore, important for man to respect clothing, to demonstrate that the important part of clothes’ role is to maintain his honor and status by covering private parts of his body and to adorn him.

Because of the need for clothes for honor, nature saw to it that there would also be an ancillary purpose to protect the body from cold. The situation, theoretically, did not have to be this way. Man could have lived in a climate where he would not need clothes, and he would wear them just for their moral purpose. The Rabbis teach us that because of this connection between the two purposes of clothes, whoever disgraces clothes, thereby diminishing their honor regarding their main, lofty purpose, will not benefit from their lower purpose either, to give warmth. He thus sees that if the clothes did not serve, in his eyes, for the higher level, they lost their place and will not give warmth either. He will not be allowed to maintain the value of clothes just on the lower level.

This concept is intended to be applied to all physical enjoyment. Whenever there is a joint purpose, for totally animalistic benefit and for a benefit that reflects a higher level, one should always be careful that the benefit that reflects man’s higher level should remain the primary one. He should thereby be reminded to strengthen the side of his personality that relates to his godly spiritual side, which is full of knowledge and wisdom. 

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