It is springtime now and summer is coming. Vacations are on our minds and these are the days for dreaming big and making plans. Where to go? What to take? That’s what I was thinking about when a congregant asked, “But rabbi, when you are on your vacation will you wear your kipah?”
This question made me think, “Hmmmm, does a *kipah need a vacation? Does a rabbi need a vacation from her kipah?” Is there ever a time when I should put my kipah in my purse and just be a “regular” person?
In Parasha Shelach Lekha we find a passage that refers to Jewish clothing. In Numbers, Chapter 15 verses 37-40 we read:
“The Lord said to Moses: Instruct the people Israel that in every generation they shall put fringes on the corners of their garments and bind a thread of blue to the fringe of each corner. Looking up it you will be reminded of all the mitzvot of the Lord and fulfill them and not be seduced by your heart or led astray by your eyes. Then you will remember and observe all my mitzvot and be holy before your G-d…”
Apparently God is telling us that we can choose items of clothing that will help us to remember who we are as Jews and how we should to behave.
In ancient times the “tzitzit” or the fringes were worn at the hem of a long gown. Later on they appeared on a undershirt that many traditional Jews continue to wear today. In the Middle Ages, it was a custom for Sephardic Jewish men to give beautiful fringed jewelry to their wives so that they could also wear fringes. But the tzitzit are most often associated with the tallit, the prayer shawl worn by many Jewish men and women when they come to the synagogue for Shabbat and festivals.
For each garment, whether it is gown, shirt or shawl, wearing it is a way to remind ourselves that as Jews we live by the commandments. Like the fringes, the commandments are as close to us as our own skin. Although the kipah is not mentioned in the Torah, wearing one offers the same reminder. Let me give you an example:
Several years ago I made a visit to Sicily. I wanted to see the island where my some of my family settled after being expelled from Toledo, Spain five hundred years before.
When I finally arrived, after about 20 hours of traveling I waited patiently for my luggage to appear at “Baggage Claim.” I waited and waited and waited. “No problema,” said the woman at the “Lost Luggage” desk. She said my suitcase would no doubt arrive on the next flight.
Three hours later, after two more flights from Milan had arrived, there was still no luggage. But there were documents to complete and long lines of passengers who were waiting for their luggage, too. I felt myself becoming angry and agitated. I wanted to give these clerks a piece of my mind. It was at that moment that I remembered that on my head was my kipah. I was wearing a sign of my Jewishness. I remembered that my kipah is a symbol that serves to remind me of who I am and how I should behave.
My kipah gave me the opportunity to remember that I must treat everyone with dignity and respect. The words I choose and the tone of voice that I use are very important. I know myself. I can be sarcastic and critical in three different languages or I can say something pleasant. I can choose to speak words that help rather than words that hurt.
I must be honest. I did not want to speak kindly. I was angry and I wanted to let the Yetzer Hara (bad side of myself) have dominion over the Yetzer Tov (good side). When I wear my kipah or my Magen David, or any other Jewish symbol, I identify myself to the world as a person of God's covenant.
In the airport at Catania, my hand moved to my head and I touched my kipah. I asked myself, “When annoyances come, how would a good Jew behave?” Yes, I had a good reason to be upset, but my kipah helped to stay calm. My kipah reminded to speak to everyone, including the baggage staff of Al Italia, with kindness and respect.
This is the month when many of us anticipate our vacations. We are making our plans and packing our suitcases. It is not necessary to pack a kipah or a tallit or for that matter, any pieces of our Jewish jewelry, but it is necessary for us to remember our Jewish heritage, our traditions and our mitzvot and pack them in our hearts.
The answer is, “Yes.” I will wear my kipah on vacation, to mountains, to the sea and to the United States. Wearing it is my way of remembering that no matter how complicated or difficult life can become, my Jewish traditions will help me show dignity and respect to all people. My kipah will remind me of the words of Torah and give me the opportunity to be a “Light unto the nations.” My kipah will help me to behave as a Jew.
*For more on the history of the kipah, visit an earlier blog post here.