Three things to talk about here. First, let’s talk about clothes…what they communicate about who you are, what your life is about, and what you think of yourself and the world around you. And RuPaul. Then we’ll talk about a tent in the wilderness. And after that, Starbucks, sacred ritual, and how we’re basically living the same lives we were living thousands of years ago.
Let’s do this!
Holy Drag Queens
What a person wears says a lot about who they are, and what they represent. A cheap suit means an attempt to be upwardly mobile, in a tasteless way. A military uniform commands power from civilians, or shows rank among the troops. We can see a person’s lot in life from what they wear, and of course, how they wear it. The clothes don’t make the man, but in a way, they do.
Once upon a time we had these priests called the Kohanim, and yowzah, they had some drag man. The priestly vestments contain several “clues” as to the way in which a priest was to be understood in relation to the community: the mixing of linen and wool (shatnez) and the blend of crimson, purple and blue with gold interlaced.
First, the mixing of wool and linen must be addressed, because it’s really, really, really strange (then again, so is most of the Bible, so shocker, eh?) The commandment for the high priest to mix wool and linen comes before the prohibition of shatnez. This is arbitrary at first glance. Perhaps wool and linen represent two seasons that are not supposed to be mixed together, reflecting how the ancient Israelites thought of God as the maker of a world of opposites: light/dark, land/sky, sky/water, winter/summer, etc. Another possibility could come from a later prohibition on cross-dressing.
Nevertheless, the priests are allowed, in fact commanded, to break a rule that ordinary Israelites must obey. This is not the only time that roles are reflected in prohibitions: a Kohen may not be defiled by a corpse, or marry a divorcee, for example.
The Torah views the world as a series of spiritual potentials, constantly being unlocked. There is a potential in the mixing of wool and linen that an ordinary Israelite cannot handle (perhaps in the same way that Moses is said to have come closer to God than anyone, who would otherwise die in the presence of the divine, such as Nadav and Avihu in Parsha Acharei Mot). Simply put: when wool and linen are together, something magical happens, and only certain people are prepared for this psychically.
Some people get to break the rules. God’s rules. Because these aren’t rules for them at all. In some cases, the world that makes sense for some, makes no sense for others. Some of us are commanded to do things differently, it seems.
Some of us just need to wear drag. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s holy.
Ponchos and Tents
Let’s talk about the colors of the priestly poncho: a brightly colored cloak perhaps reminiscent of Joseph’s coat. The interesting thing here is the matching of the priest’s vestment to the colors of the Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting. In a sense, the priest is wearing the tent as a symbol of his place within the sacred vessel of God’s power on Earth.
The priests clothes aren’t about him. They are about something else. Somewhere else. Somewhere else that is among us.
The Mishkan is the womb of human potential. It is the place where life springs forth. It is no surprise, then, that the Mishkan is connected so closely to the Sheckinah, which is reflective of the sacred feminine in Judaism. The Holy of Holies, the central room within the tent, is revered as the place where God sits (literally) on top of the Aron Kodesh. This interesting juxtaposition of a male, tribal deity-king on his throne, sitting inside the womb, is like that of the yin and yang, a sacred male/female power balance. The holy of holies, with God at the center of the womb of the sacred, is a mandala for the Jewish consciousness.
What then should be said of the priest in the uniform of the union between God the warrior and God the source of life/mother? My personal inspiration comes from, of all places…
The coffee shop chain, like all other chains, rests on a single key principal for attracting business: third place experience. In his book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg argued that third places (defined as a place that is neither work nor home, but nevertheless important to one’s social life) are the bedrock for civil society and a “sense of place”. Third place (also called Third Space) include bars, barber shops, social halls such as the Shriners or Masons, and of course, coffee houses.
Third place results in the Mishkan in three ways.
First, the Israelites who encountered the Mishkan did so in a way that took them out of the ordinary. The Mishkan was not the home, and it was certainly not the fields or shops they worked in. This creates an emotional vulnerability that gave the ritual sacrifice an amazing impact on the human psyche.
Second, the Mishkan and the priests inside it seemed to be a part of one another. The priests, dressed as the Mishkan, were otherworldly. This, I believe, was one of the original instances of costuming as branding, in the same way that servers in a theme restaurant would dress in a costume that gives the appearance that they “belong” to the experience, and not to the mundane (such as the Starbucks employees wearing trademark green and black aprons). The difference between the priests of the Temple is that they did not dress like the God they represented (how could they, if God did not have a human form?), but rather, dressed as the place where God lived – hence the gold, crimson, purple and blue cloak.
Finally, the Mishkan offered through the prohibition of shatnez and the specific laws forbidding an Israelite from creating his/her own sacrifices a sense of being under the spell of higher, earthly authority, which is able to intone the godly powers of the Kodesh HaKedoshim. I think of this in the context of the Starbucks employee who is able to be behind the counter, making the coffee drinks, with their specific recipes, while the lowly employee who paid his “sacrifice” awaits the victory of a completed task that connects the person from their sacrifice to the reward of giving up something of value.
What we learn from from all this is that human beings feel most at home with spirituality that fully immerses them in the experience “out of the norm”. When we enter into a coffee house that we love, we do not feel spiritual, and yet, the average person in the United States spends over $1,000.00 per year on gourmet coffee.
People vote with their dollars, and what they are voting for, unbeknownst to them, is an experience that was founded a long time ago, and is reflected in the laws of drag, architecture, sacrifice, the sacred feminine, the sacred masculine and being part of something that is bigger than yourself, but that you must be a part of, no matter what your role is.
Could it be that going for coffee is not just about getting the world’s best legal high, but about connecting to something that is bigger than ourselves? Do we have an ancestral memory about going somewhere, sacrificing something of ourselves, getting something that we need, and feeling raptured by it?
Who’s up for a coffee?
Written by Rabbi Patrick