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The Midrash explains that originally, Adam wore kosnos ohr (spelled with an aleph) – garments of light (See Shnei Luchos Habris: TetzavehTorah Ohr. See also Torah Temimah, Bereishis 3:21). After he sinned, Hashem clothed him in kosnos ohr (spelled with an ayin) – garments of skin (Bereishis 3:21). When spelled with an aleph, ohr is light; when spelled with an ayin, ohr is a hide, the skin of an animal. What is the deeper meaning behind this?

Rav Eliyahu Dessler (in Michtav Me’Eliyahu) explains the meaning behind the descriptions of Adam’s clothing as follows: Originally, Adam’s body was transparent, emanating the light of his soul. Light reveals, and his original skin revealed his true, inner self. Once he sinned, however, his body no longer revealed the spiritual, but only its physical surface. The word ohr, when spelled with an ayin, means animal hide. This skin, hides the soul, the inner self.


The letter aleph is the first letter of the aleph-beis. It is the letter of oneness, representing transcendence, spirituality, and Hashem, our root and ultimate source. The letter ayin represents the physical, limited expression of the aleph. This is why the word “aleph” means to elevate to a higher spiritual dimension, while ayin means eye. The eye, naturally, sees only the physical; however, it has the potential to see past the physical surface of reality, to source itself back to the original light of the aleph. That is why the word ayin is also connected to the word “ma’ayan,” a wellspring. A wellspring has a limiting surface. Through effort, though, one can peer beneath that surface, revealing something endlessly deep behind it. By delving into the depths of the wellspring, one can draw forth water – the source of life. (This is the meaning behind “mayim chaim.” See Bereishis 26:19.) Ayin therefore reflects the concept of reaching that which is hidden, higher, and transcendent.

However, the ayin also has the potential to corrupt, causing us to see nothing more than the physical surface without sourcing our physical sight back to any higher source. This is why the Hebrew word iver, spelled the same way as the word ohr, means “blind.” One who sees only the physical surface is blind to the truth; one who sees only the surface does not see at all. This is the unique challenge of sight. We can use it to see the physical as an expression of the spiritual, or we can become trapped by the lure of the surface, ignoring its higher root.


The Spiritual Purpose of Clothing

Before Adam sinned, he required no clothing (Bereishis 2:25). His physical body radiated light, expressing his angelic soul. Once Adam sinned, however, his physical body lost this spiritual level. The pasuk describes how Adam and Chavah suddenly realized their nakedness and became embarrassed, desiring to cover their bodies with clothing (Bereishis 3:7). What is the meaning behind their embarrassment, and why was clothing the ideal remedy?

One becomes embarrassed when the way they are perceived externally is not a true reflection of who they are, or how they believe they should be perceived. This is the spiritual concept of busha (shame). When there is a breakdown between the inner self and its outer expression, the inner self feels ashamed that it is being misrepresented. For example, if someone tells everyone that you cheated on a test, when you did not, you would feel embarrassed, as you are being seen as something other than you really are. And even if you did cheat, you would still be embarrassed, because you know deep down inside that you are better than how you acted and how people now perceive you. (This works the other way as well. One will feel embarrassed if other people think they are greater than they actually are. Aharon HaKohen would befriend resha’im (evil people) so that they would feel embarrassed. They would think to themselves, “Why is he talking to me? He must think I’m a good person. I better become the kind of person he actually thinks I am before he finds out the truth!”).

We wear clothes because our bodies, in their current lowly form, are a source of embarrassment. We are souls, holy angelic beings, and yet we appear in the world as physical beings with bodies only marginally different from animals. For those who understand who and what they truly are, it is embarrassing to be seen as anything less than an absolutely spiritual and transcendent being. This is the ultimate breakdown between the inner and outer self.

The natural response to shame is the desire to hide. For example, if someone is embarrassed in public, their immediate wish is to hide until everyone leaves. When Adam and Chava realized their nakedness, their first instinct was to grab fig leaves and hide their bodies (Bereishis 3:7). Hashem then made them garments of ohr (skin), clothing them with dignity (Bereishis 3:21).

However, there are two purposes of clothing. The first is to hide the embarrassment of our nakedness, but the second is to reveal our true selves – to express our dignity as tzelem Elokim. We use the very means of our failure and embarrassment as the solution to our problem. By eating from the Eitz Ha’daas, our bodies no longer reflect our spiritual selves, and we require clothing, but we use that very clothing to elevate ourselves and reflect who we truly are. This is why Kohanim are required to wear such beautiful clothing; clothing allows our physical bodies to reflect the dignity and greatness of our true selves. (Our faces do not need clothing, as they still reflect human dignity (ziv ha’panim) and our individual uniqueness. Our hands as well do not require clothing, as they loyally reveal who we are through our actions.) Hashem covered Adam and Chava with ohr (clothing) – [Ohr with an ayin], so that they could uplift it and once again reveal their true ohr (light) – [Ohr with an aleph].


The Potential of Clothing

Like all things in this world, clothing has tremendous potential when used correctly. However, it can also be corrupted and misused. When used properly, clothing mitigates the shame of our physical bodies and helps us express our higher, dignified selves in the world. When misused, clothing can hide our spiritual core, portraying ourselves as completely physical beings.

The conflicting uses of clothing are expressed in the Hebrew word for clothing, “beged.” This word is made up of the letters beis, gimmel, and dalet, the three letters that immediately follow the letter aleph. Aleph represents the spiritual root, the soul. If used correctly, our “beged” can loyally express our soul, our inner self, into the world. But the letters of “beged” also spell “boged,” which means traitor and treachery, because our clothing can instead be used to betray our true inner selves. A traitor is one thing on the inside but pretends to be something else on the outside – he adopts a fake exterior, that does not reflect his true inner identity. When our clothing hides who we truly are, expressing nothing more than our physical surface, our inner self is betrayed. Chazal compare Eisav to a pig (Bereishis Rabbah 65:1 and Vayikra Rabbah 13:5; see Rashi, Bereishis 26:34): A pig makes an external show of being kosher due to its split hooves, but in truth, on the inside, it’s completely treif (as it doesn’t chew its cud). So too, Eisav pretended to be a tzaddik on the outside, putting on a show for Yitzchak, but on the inside, he was twisted and corrupt. This is also why Eisav wore Adam’s garment, to make himself appear holy on the outside. Yaakov, however, is described as having the ziv ha’panim of Adam, the light of Adam’s face – true spiritual greatness. This greatness was revealed on the outside, but as an expression of something genuine existing within.

Another word for clothing is levush, which can also be read as “lo bosh” (not embarrassed). Clothing has the potential to eliminate our embarrassment, but only when used correctly. When the focus of clothing becomes the clothing themselves, failing to reveal our true inner selves, the clothing does nothing to prevent our existential embarrassment.

Me’il is yet another Hebrew word for garment, referring to an outer coat. Yet, the word that shares this same root, “me’ilah,” refers to the prohibition of stealing or benefiting from kodshim, that which was designated as holy for the Beis HaMikdash. The prohibition of me’ilah is taking that which is kadosh, that which is elevated and belongs to Hashem, and lowering it to a state of chol (mundane). Just as it is a problem to misuse hekdesh (consecrated items), lowering it from its state of kedusha to a state of chol, it is problematic to misuse a garment, failing to reveal anything higher.



One of the most misunderstood ideas in Judaism is the concept of tz’niyus, especially in regard to women. Many think that tz’niyus means to hide, that the ideal is not to be seen. However, there is an infinitely deeper approach to tz’niyus. In this age, beauty has been corrupted. The term “beauty” generally refers to outer beauty, a surface beauty that distracts from and hides the inner self. Physical beauty is neither good nor bad; it is merely a vessel with the potential to be used for good or bad. While our physical body is immensely valuable, our true self is our neshama – our soul, our inner mind, our highest consciousness. Our inner world, thoughts, ideas, choices, beliefs, middos, and emotions are the deepest and most genuine parts of our “self.” True beauty is when the physical serves as a vessel that expresses one’s true self – one’s inner essence – into the world.

The focus must always be on the inner beauty as the ikar. The purpose of tz’niyus is not to hide you but to reveal you! The true you. Tz’niyus shifts the focus from the external trappings to the actual self, the neshama, which lies beneath the surface and illuminates the physical vessel. True beauty requires a beautiful root and core, and the physical must then be used to project that inner beauty outwards.

The inner light of true beauty illuminates the truth, helping us see that which lies beneath the surface. True beauty is much deeper than a description of how a person looks; it’s a way of life. A beautiful life is a life of oneness where we synthesize all the aspects of who we are; where our thoughts, words, and actions all reflect a higher purpose, a higher source, a higher reality. This is the beauty and light of living a Torah life.

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Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, “The Journey to Your Ultimate Self,” which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an educator and speaker who has lectured internationally on topics of Torah thought, Jewish medical ethics, psychology, and leadership. He is also the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy, the transformative online self-development course based on the principles of high-performance psychology and Torah. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received Semicha from Yeshiva University’s RIETS, a master’s degree in education from Azrieli Graduate School, and a master’s degree in Jewish Thought from Bernard Revel Graduate School. He then spent a year studying at Harvard as an Ivy Plus Scholar. He currently lives in Chicago with his wife and son where he is pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: