Headgear is part of man's general attire. It would be helpful first to consider the origin and significance of human attire in general, before discussing the question of covering the head.

According to the opinion of many scientists, human attire is considered to have originated for two reasons: (a) as a protection against climatic conditions (heat, cold, rain, etc.), and subsequently also (b) for decorative purposes.

On closer investigation, however, it would seem that this "scientific" view is highly questionable. Inasmuch as the cradle of the human race was in a place where climatic conditions were ideal, yet clothes were worn in these early days, the weather motive of attire does not hold good.

According to the Torah, clothes had quite a different origin. We are informed by the Torah (Genesis, ch. 3) that when the first human beings, Adam and Eve, were created, they did not require any clothes and "were not ashamed." But after their sin with the Tree of Knowledge, "they knew that they were naked," and prepared themselves clothes to cover their bodies.

This radical change of outlook in the first human beings is explained by Maimonides (Guide, part I, ch. 2). His explanation is quoted in Chabad literature, which throws further light on the subject. Briefly it is this:

Man was created all good, without any evil in him. He had no evil inclinations nor did he know any temptation for physical pleasures. Consequently, all organs and parts of the body were equal to him, each one having to play its part in carrying out man's Divine mission on this earth. In his purity of mind, the feeling of shame was foreign to him. Just as there would be no reason for shame in teaching the Torah to someone, an act which is likened to begetting a child spiritually, so there would be no reason for shame in begetting a child physically, for here, too, man was fulfilling the Divine command of "Be fruitful and multiply." In both cases, indulgence in physical pleasure was ruled out, there being but one consideration: The fulfillment of the Divine Will.

After the sin with the Tree of Knowledge, there was born in man a consciousness of physical pleasure, of which he was not aware before when his spiritual self was absolutely predominant. Good was no longer purely good in his contaminated mind. He saw that certain parts of the body were more directly associated with the sense of physical pleasure. The exposition of those parts of the body now brought forth in him a feeling of shame on two counts: first of all, because these parts of the body were a reminder of the humiliating downfall of man into the power of lust, and secondly, because they were a source of temptation. For these reasons, man felt ashamed of his nakedness and wished to cover his body.

From this point of view, it would appear at first glance that the feeling of shame would certainly not apply to the head, the seat of the intellect, the highest possession of the human being, which distinguishes him from the lower species of animals. For is not the intellect the zenith of the entire creation?

Indeed, the man who thinks that there is nothing higher in the universe than his intellect, would consider it a contradiction to cover his head, the seat of his intellect, his pride and prized possession.

However, the man who believes in G‑d has a different conception of man's status. We know that despite man's intellectual prowess, he is a very humble being; we realize that the intellect, unfortunately, far from getting us out of the mire of temptation, often is itself influenced by it, and acts as an accessory. Even he who does not belong to this category, nevertheless experiences shame by reason of the insignificance of even the intellect in the realm of the Divine.

Consequently, not only the lower parts of the body are witnesses of man's downfall, but even the head, which houses the intellect, and perhaps more so. I say "more so," because the failure of the intellect is man's greatest failure. For while an immature child may not be fully responsible for his actions, the mature person has no excuse. So it is with regard to man's faculties themselves: the failure of the highest is the greatest failure.

The more one is conscious of one's intellectual responsibility, the greater must be one's sense of shame at failing to fulfill it. Intellect and knowledge, far from giving the Jew a sense of pride, give him a sense of humility, for they have been given to him by G‑d for higher and sacred purposes. In so far as he does not fully live up to these purposes, the average man must always be filled with a sense of shame. Even the righteous man cannot be free from a sense of shame, for, being more fully aware of the presence of G‑d, each intellectual step forward brings him closer to the realization how infinitely insignificant is his intellect in the presence of the Infinite. For "the culmination point of knowledge (in the knowledge of G‑d) is to realize that we do not know."

Thus, our covering the head always, is a demonstration of our awareness that there is something which is infinitely above our intellect, and symbolizes our humility and sense of shame in the presence of G‑d (Yirath Shomaim).