Me and My Clothing
Harav Israel Asulin
Monday, 18th of Kislev, 5776
It is written in this week’s Torah portion, regarding Yosef and the wife of Potifar: “She caught hold of him by his garment, saying ‘Lie with me!’ But he left his garment in her hand, and he fled, and went outside.” (Geneis, Chapter 39, Verse 12)
Rebbe Nachman says (Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, paragraph 100): “The evil inclination catches a person with his clothing, that is to say that he bothers him regarding his clothing. Because a person’s worry about the need for clothing greatly confuses him and prevents him through this from serving Hashem. This is what it means ‘She caught hold of him by his garment’. However, someone who has a strong soul and his heart is strong in serving Hashem doesn’t pay attention at all to this matter, and this is what it means ‘But he left his garment in her hand, and fled’- he leaves his clothing and escapes from them and doesn’t pay attention to them whatsoever, he just does what he can in his service of Hashem.”
Rebbe Nachman reveals to us that the evil inclination has an amazing trick for trapping someone- clothing. His fishing rod automatically zones in on clothing; that is his method. He spreads out before us a net, catches us with clothing, and keeps us by him, far from the service of Hashem.
What is clothing?
Clothing is not specifically the clothes that we buy in the store and wear on our body; clothing is anything that we put upon ourselves from the outside, it is our external image. Just as there are different types of clothing, for every time and season, so to the external image takes many different ways of talking and interacting.
In truth, there is no doubt that there is a role for the external image. This image is what allows a person to conduct himself in the world and have a place amongst people. A person places upon himself an image as a need, as a defense. Sometimes it is the only way it seems to him to conduct himself in the world. The feeling is that if it were not for the external image, a person simply could not survive.
However, when we make the less important, the clothing, the main thing, when somebody identifies so much with his external image until he has no differentiation and it seems to him that he is the external image and that he can’t get along in any other way from that which he is used to, this has gone beyond a ‘need’ and become something troubling. A bother which holds up our service of Hashem.
It’s a bit difficult to understand, what is so bad about identifying with my external image? It’s a sin? What is the connection between the external image and the evil inclination? In general, how can these external images and ways of being prevent us from serving Hashem? The external image that a person gives himself limits him and bounds him. It tells him how to behave and what to feel, where all the other variety of possibilities which are not part of the same fixed way of acting are not in the picture. When somebody allows a certain way of acting to take over his choice, he is by definition limited and able to realize just a small amount of his talents and attributes.
The inability to change ways of acting is exactly what stops a person from growing. Rebbe Nachman says that “She caught hold of him by his garment” is the evil inclination which whispers to a person: “You are not able to!” “This is the only way that you know and therefore it is the only possibility!” In this way he catches the person by his external image and prevents him from moving in the right direction.
Someone who recognizes his true value, his talents, the holiness of his limitless soul, does not worry about his clothing- his external image, he identifies what is more important and what is less and he clings to the main thing- even if the meaning of this is leaving behind his habits and disconnecting from everything known and certain.
A person like this agrees to leave his clothing and escape without it, “even though he doesn’t have another piece of clothing to wear, nevertheless he doesn’t concern himself with this and he doesn’t want to let himself be confused by this!”
If you will forego your clothing/ external image, if you agree to dedicate yourself completely to the good and release yourself from holding on to these external things, you will merit God willing to the continuation of verse regarding Yosef: “And (he) went outside”- away from all the imaginary chains which hide you from yourself. Away from all the threatening barriers which stop you and prevent you from realizing your true purpose in serving Hashem and in the world.
Go forward to the real life.