Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Throughout the millennia of our People’s existence, Shabbos has been a cornerstone of Yiddishkeit. So fundamental is it to our faith, that Shabbos observance has practically become the barometer by which we judge if one is considered religious or not. Yet, a complaint has been voiced a number of times too many that Shabbos is all about what we cannot do, and that Shabbos does not have sufficient positive ways in which we may serve the Creator. Such a conception is patently false. This column aims to describe the innumerable ways in which we can actively serve Hakadosh Baruch Hu on the Holy Day. And so we go…

In previous weeks we discussed the growth one can achieve through the Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv prayers on Shabbos. Now let’s move on to a different area in which we can actively serve Hashem on Shabbos – through Shabbos clothing. There is a ubiquitous custom amongst the Jewish People to dress up in our finest outfits on Shabbos. This mitzvah is so special to the Jewish People that most Torah-observant Jews divide their wardrobe into two parts – Shabbos clothing and weekday clothing. Now, this phenomenon is in direct contrast to the prevailing custom in the world today when it comes to days off. That is to say, most of the people in the world dress down on their day of rest. (Are we not all familiar with the classic scene of a man in his shorts and sleeveless undershirt sitting on the couch watching football on Sunday afternoon?) But let’s ask ourselves – why do most people spend their day off in their pjs? Presumably, the answer is that pajamas are the most comfortable set of clothing in one’s wardrobe. So why do Jews act differently on Shabbos? Why do we dress up on our day off?


To answer this question, let’s turn to the Tur (O.C. 262, 2) who discusses the source for this custom. The verse in Yeshaya (58, 13) states “Refrain from accomplishing your own needs on My holy day… proclaim Shabbos a delight… and honor it.” Based on this verse, the Tur explains that dressing up for Shabbos is a mitzvah because it is a deed that accords honor to the Holy Day. That is to say, the goal is not to honor ourselves (by choosing the most comfortable option) but rather to honor the day of Shabbos instead.

It seems that found our answer. The reason we dress up on Shabbos is because it honors Hashem’s holy day. However, we still must probe further. How does dressing up give honor? Let’s take a detour to analyze this idea. The first example that comes to mind of one that dresses up is that of a king. A king dresses up because he is special. Since he is an elevated individual, he must dress in an elevated fashion. Similarly, a bride and groom dress up at their wedding because they are special on that day; after all -they are the bride and groom. However, this understanding is insufficient to explain the mitzvah of dressing up in order to honor Shabbos. If Shabbos is special then Shabbos should be dressed in an elevated fashion. Now obviously, Shabbos is not able to dress up, but what does it accomplish if we dress up on Shabbos if we are not the elevated ones?

The answer lies in understanding the need to beautify the garb of not only those who are elevated, but also of those who associate with elevated people. Meaning to say, not only must the king must dress up, but those who visit him must do so as well. Similarly, guests at a wedding dress up even though they are not the bride and groom. But why do they do so? The king must dress up – for he is elevated. But if the visitor is not the elevated individual then why does he need to dress up? Similarly, one could wonder why the guests at a wedding dress up. They certainly don’t think that they are the bride or groom! It is obvious that besides our initial idea that the elevated persons themselves must dress in accordance with their elevated station, there is also a second reason why one might dress up. What is that reason?

The answer is that everything associated with a person reflects his status. If you see a throne, even without seeing the one who inhabits it, you assume that this royal seat is reserved for royalty. Similarly, a beautiful mansion in an upscale community is presumed to belong to a wealthy upper-class individual. This is because that which is associated with an individual is a reflection of his status. The reason why one visiting the king is obligated to dress up is because it is inappropriate for a grungy individual to associate before the king. All those in the king’s presence must be immaculate. [An example can be found in Megillas Esther. Mordechai was barred from entering the king’s gate because he was wearing sackcloth. “For it was forbidden to enter the king’s gate in a garment of sackcloth.” (Esther 4, 2)] Similarly, it is appropriate for guests to come to wedding dressed in finery because, by coming to the wedding, they are stepping into the role of friends of the bride or groom – and thereby reflect on the status of the new couple. In other words, when you step into a wedding hall and see all the guests dressed in a fine and upscale manner, even without seeing the bride or groom, you assume that they are fine and upstanding individuals. Conversely, if you would step into a wedding hall and find it full of people dressed in a grungy or otherwise lowly fashion, would you not assume that the new couple is likewise from a lowly station? This because affiliation causes reflection.

Now perhaps we can understand the goal of dressing up on Shabbos. Hashem gave us Shabbos and therefore we are the ones affiliated with it. The way we honor Shabbos is by dressing ourselves up. Since Shabbos cannot be seen, when we dress ourselves up, we give off the message that Shabbos is special – for otherwise why would those affiliated with it need to be dressed so nicely?

Let’s conclude with a parable. Imagine you were given the job of designing the costumes for a play. The producer asks you to create the costume for the best friend of the main character. If you create a fancy, upscale outfit, then it is apparent to me that you think the main character is an upstanding fellow – as his class is reflected in those with which he associates. But if you create a lowly garb for the friend, does that not indicate the lowly perception you have of the main character?

So here’s a sixth thing you can do on Shabbos: dress up in your finest clothing. Recognize that you were given the job of dressing up the associate of Shabbos. You are the costume designer. The way you design your Shabbos outfit has the ability to reflect an honorary status on Hashem’s holy day. Do your job well.

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Shaya Winiarz is a student of the Rabbinical Seminary of America (a.k.a. Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim). He is also a lecturer, columnist, and freelance writer. He can be reached for speaking engagements or freelance writing at [email protected].