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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Shabbos Clothes

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Shabbos Clothes

The story is told of a group of Chasidim who decided to replicate a Shabbos. One Tuesday night they all prepared as they would for Shabbos with their finest clothes and their shtreimels and gathered together for a tish. They sang the songs and ate the fish and said the Divrei Torah. They did this as an experiment to see if there was anything intrinsic about Shabbos. Could the same loftiness be attained on any Tuesday night? To their disappointment they found that their Tuesday night experience felt just like Shabbos. Perplexed they went to the Rebbe and asked, “How could this be?” The Rebbe replied, “The Kedusha you felt was the kedusha of Shabbos; you felt it because you were wearing your shabbos’dike clothes”.
This story always upset me. Isn’t there more to the holiness of Shabbos than just the clothes we wear? There are many holes that a philosopher, a skeptic or a psychologist could find in this story. Nonetheless, it is worth opening our minds and taking a moment to understand the idea of special clothes on Shabbos.
The Pasuk in Yirmiyahu tells us regarding Shabbos “?????? ????? ?????” - “you should honor it and refrain from your regular ways”. The ???? in Shabbos 113 explains ??????: ??? ??? ?????? ?? ??? ??????? ?? ???. The clothes we wear during the week should not be the same as the clothes we wear on Shabbos. The Gemara goes on to explain that R’ Yochanan would refer to his clothes as ??????’ , that which brings honor. When we wear special clothes we are honoring Shabbos.  Based on this, the Shulchan Aruch writes that a person should endeavor to wear nice clothes in honor of Shabbos. This is the Halacha.
Many scholars took a closer look at this Gemara and understood it more literally. Nice clothes are not good enough; we need Shabbos clothes. The Gemara specifically said ??? ??? ?????? ?? ??? ??????? ?? ???. On Shabbos all of our clothes should be special Shabbos clothes and not clothes that we wear at any other time. When Rus went to the Mikva to convert and prepared to meet Boaz, Rashi (based on the Yerushalmi) writes that she put on her Shabbos clothes. This is odd. Since it was not Shabbos, it would make more sense to say that she put on her nice clothes, even if they were the same ones that she wore on Shabbos. The Steipler learned from here that a person should have specific clothes that are set aside specifically for Shabbos. If we use those same clothes for a wedding or a job interview, even if they are ‘top of the line’ $1300 clothes, they not Shabbos clothes. Both the Vilna Gaon and the Arizal and their respective students would change every single shred of clothing from head to toe for Shabbos in keeping with this concept. The Chazon Ish would remove his Shabbos clothes as soon as Shabbos was over so as not to disgrace them with weekday. (The Kaf Hachayim would remove his Shabbos clothes immediately after Melave Malka and the Trumas Hadeshen would wear them until he went to sleep). Although the Shulchan Aruch does not seem to take this strict approach, it is the approach of the Gra and the Arizal as well as many of their followers. The Mishna Berurah quotes the concept of keeping clothes exclusive to Shabbos and writes that it is not a Halacha but a Davar Tov – a good thing to do.
I would like to propose a third approach to the idea of Shabbos clothes. The Gemara in Shabbos 119 writes “ ??? ????? ????? ???? ????? ????? ???? ??? ???? ???? ????? ??? ?????, ??? ???? ???? ????? ???? ??? ???? ???? ??? ???? ???”. Similiarly the Shulchan Aruch writes “???? ????? ????? ????? ????? ???? ????? ????? ???? ?????? ????? ??? ???? ???? ????? ???’“.  It would seem from both of these quotes that the Mitzvah of wearing nice clothes is part of the Mitzvah of accepting the Shabbos. In order to accept the Shabbos properly we need to be wearing special clothes. Alternatively, special clothes help us accept the Shabbos. Before the Jewish people could accept the Torah they were given only four instructions: Be prepared, separate husbands and wives, come to Har Sinai, wash your clothes. Special clothes and changing clothes seem to be an integral part of accepting Shabbos upon us. The Rambam writes: “ ???? ??? ?????--?? ????? ????? ????? ?? ??? ????? ???? ???? ?????? ????? ???? ???, ???? ???? ????.  ?????? ?????? ????? ????? ???, ????? ?????? ??? ????, ??? ???? ???? ????? ????.  ?????? ???????? ??? ?????? ???????? ???? ???, ????????; ???????, ???? ???? ????? ??? ????. ?  ??????? ????, ?????? ???? ?????.  ??? ???? ????? ????, ?????? ???? ...”
Regardless of which approach we use, one thing is clear. As the Chayei Adam writes, “We do not wear special clothes for other people, but for the Shabbos”. The Halacha of wearing Shabbos clothes applies no matter where a person is or what part of Shabbos it is. When the Torah says to honor Shabbos by wearing Shabbos clothes it is as an essential part of the Shabbos experience.

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