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Transforming Fashion

Transforming Fashion

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The charm of the past and its enigmatic lessons consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet ultimately each generation experiences something completely different. Throughout Jewish history, the forces of physical contentment and the lure of material beauty have manifested themselves in a variety of forms and fashions. The perpetual battle between the animalistic and spiritual makeup of a person is one that is inherent to each and every individual, apparent in every era of time.

Our physical pursuit is a very material oneThe story of Purim demonstrates how physical beauty can be harnessed for the good of the community; revealing the G‑dliness in this seemingly mundane and corporeal virtue. The ancient Queen Esther is described in the Megillah as a girl who possessed "beautiful form and beautiful visage," resulting in her being chosen by King Achashverosh as his new queen, following the death of Queen Vashti.

Indeed, the name "Esther" is connected with the Persian word for "star," setareh, explaining that Esther was so named for being as beautiful as the 'morning star.' Yet, her beauty was not flaunted; rather she used this in order to save the Jewish People at the time from the fatal decree of Haman. Here, a lesson is taught of how to manipulate and utilize the embodiment of physical perfection for the fulfilment of a great purpose.

However, physical perfection in today's day and age takes on a whole new meaning in the fast paced and consumerist society we live in. It is most apparent in our everyday living; our desires and aspirations so often revolve around what we can call our own, what we can show our neighbor we possess. Our physical pursuit is a very material one; augmented by the fact that the world is at our fingertips.

"It's just such a pretty scarf, and I don't have that many scarves...I mean look at those colors, so vibrant, and the mint green will totally go with that jacket I have at home....Okay, okay, I know it's really expensive...but it's cashmere! I won't buy anything else after this, really, I don't need anything...this is just too good of an offer to pass by..."

How many times have thoughts like those materialized in your head? The rationalization of acquiring just one more physical adornment, one more accessory that will make all the difference? Quite often it does make all the difference, and that purchase we make after having our eye on something for weeks on end is undoubtedly well deserved. Accepting a compliment for something you have earned feels a whole lot better than relishing in the glory of attention due to forces beyond your own control. Yet, have you ever really tried to understand the inner triumph and satisfaction these acquisitions bring into being?

It's that instant pleasure of knowing you will look and feel great; it's the rush we get when we swipe our credit card, or hand over the cash and walk out with that new item we so desperately wanted. In today's technologically advanced world, it might even be the sight of that UPS truck with the items we just ordered online. This is the corporeal temptation of today – our physical existence that seems so liberating, yet essentially may be entrapping us in a futile chase for temporary pleasure.

Results may not always be visible to the physical eyeThere are many sociological and psychological explanations for the pleasure we feel from physical acquirements. For some, it is the almost compulsive need to buy, or the actual rush of purchasing something new; whilst for others it is merely the desire to be fashionable and envied by their peers. The underlying factor however seems to be a very corporeal and tangible sensation - fast paced, instant and without having to endure any effort (except for those who go crazy for sales and trot the globe in search of that one item).

How often do we stop and pause in our tracks; question these desires, these obsessions, and this pursuit for physical fulfilment? Imagine if we took this same energy and drive and channelled it for a purpose higher than our understanding; altruistic, yes, but worth the effort. No doubt it would require unfathomable self control and discipline as the results may not always be visible to the physical eye or physical sensation.

Would it be that hard to act without knowing what the outcome would be? Did Queen Esther know she would be saving the future of the Jewish People through her actions, or was she setting an example of how to exploit the physicality of our world for the fulfilment of G‑d's will?

Take a look around - the advertisements that surround us, social expectations and even simple everyday living, such as dieting or fitness programs – the results are always demanded instantly. People want to see and feel the fruits of their labor almost as soon as they exert that initial effort.

It doesn't stop there; results must not only be instantaneous but beneficial from every angle perceived. Looking back to the beginning of time when Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden; she knew that she would gain knowledge from consuming the fruit and ate it, notwithstanding the fact that she was warned against this behavior. No matter how clear a directive can be, human nature is fallible, subject to the wonders and temptations of the outside world.

Often, commentators have tried to understand how the Jewish nation could have stooped so low to have served the Golden Calf so shortly after they received the Torah on Mount Sinai. How is it possible to go from such a spiritual high to the ultimate low in observance of G‑d's commandments? The souls of these people had just experienced an event unprecedented in world and Jewish history – immeasurable in spiritual and physical grandeur, and yet they proceeded to serve a G‑d other than the one they just accepted and declared as their own? Human nature, again, defies all spiritual logic and understanding.

The road untaken is always the harder one to followI believe G‑d knew exactly what He was doing when he placed us in this world, full of glamorous, sumptuous and seemingly extravagant temptations. The purpose was not to scorn at these physical wonders, not to ignore the pleasure it gives us, and the satisfaction we feel from our accomplishments. Rather, we are encouraged to direct this passion, to create a conduit through which spirituality can manifest itself in the physical world – to use the wonders of our physical existence for the purpose of spreading goodness, purpose and light to those still in the dark.

The path may be very long; the road untaken is always the harder one to follow. You will feel the hard concrete stones on your heels, walking through the tunnel, knowing there will be light at the end, but only feeling the chill and extreme blackness until you actually get there. The end will seem more like a distant dream; the pot of gold just a figment of your imagination; something that somebody, somewhere has dreamed up. But we will get there. We will not only overcome our boundaries, we will transform them.

So next time your eye catches the attention of that glamorous pleated silk chiffon skirt...or the merino wool button down sweater...or those gorgeous cords that would just look so good with your cashmere blazer at home...don't necessarily push it away. Think about how you can wear it to show yourself as a true example to others. Remember Queen Esther and her unique beauty; one which could have been negatively exploited but was in fact used to rescue an entire nation. Spin a different thought process when you see the wondrous miracles G‑d has bestowed upon the world around us. Use it all, feel it all, wear it all. But channel it for the good.

Mimi is from Sydney, Australia where she received her BA in History and English from Macquarie University. She is recently married and has spent the last number of months living with her husband in Israel.
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Yehudis Hecht April 12, 2015

Thank you! I loved the way you channeled an emotion into something that can be used positively instead of proving why we should ignore it (after all, look at all the bad it can lead to)!

I will definitely start thinking about this concept more- how can I use beauty as a positive motivation for spirituality? Reply

Anonymous sydney, NSW March 22, 2010

Great article

you should become a journalist Reply

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