Change Your Clothes, Change Your Mind | Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Notes

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This piece is part of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Notes series.

Several years ago, I worked as a marketing specialist for a local tech company. These kind souls gave me the option of working from home one day a week. This was the first time I had ever worked from home. I liked it at first, but soon found the freedom to work from a laptop on my couch in my pajamas to be distracting. So, I made little change. 

I put on my boots. 

Oddly enough, just putting on my boots dramatically increased my productivity. Why the heck would putting on boots increase my focus? By putting on my books, I was tricking my brain out of sloth-like state of “chill.”  Even while still in my pajamas (don’t worry — I’d put on real pants eventually), the feeling of the leather gripping my ankles and over the tops of my toes told my mind, “It’s doing-stuff time.” 

Siman/chapter 12 of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch discusses the logistics of prayer — how far to travel to pray with a congregation, where to stand, and how to gauge if you have to poop bad enough where it will be an undue distraction to your prayers (I guess this was a greater question of logistics before the advent of indoor plumbing). The sphere that resonates with me the most in this chapter is the question of how to dress when engaging in prayer…even if you’re home alone. 

“It is written: ‘Prepare to meet your God, O Israel.(Amos 4:12)’ Preparing yourself before Hashem, Blessed is He, means that you should dress yourself in the same type of respectful clothing when you pray, as you would when meeting a high official. Even if you pray privately in your home you should dress properly.”

The main point of being adequately dressed in this section is out of respect for the One to Whom we pray. This is fairly implied. However, I’d like to dive into what I think is a pretty solid second reason; to prime your mind. 

Back before I was an exhausted dad, I had a personal practice of which I probably need to get back to doing — every Erev Shabbat, even if my wife and I were staying put, I would go change into a collared shirt and slacks for Shabbat dinner. The main reason I started doing this stems from one evening. One Friday evening, I didn’t bother to change out of what were my Friday work clothes — jeans and a t-shirt containing the logo of the company I worked for. Welcoming in the Sabbath with a kiddush ceremony, I was suddenly overcome with the sensation that I was underdressed…even though I was at home with no plans of leaving. The holiness of the time period was a guest in our home, and here I was looking like a schmutzy schmuck. For several years following that feeling, I usually always made an effort to upgrade my appearance in anticipation for this holy presence. 

Fast forward several years into the future and being a dad has taken its toll. When my son was first born, sleep was elusive. Shabbat soon became the finish line of the week which we would stumble or crawl across and then promptly collapse. No special effort was made aside from what was absolutely required. 

These days, my son is a little over a year old and is an absolute sponge. Though he’s not quite speaking yet, I can tell he’s soaking up everything he experiences. This means that I have become especially conscious of my habits, behavior, and speech patterns. Studying this chapter of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch speaks to me — that I stop wearing my pajamas during my Sunday morning prayers before Him and him in the house — “Him” being the Creator and “him” being my son.

On Shabbat mornings, my wife and I make a special point to dress in some of our most formal attire. While this is just nice to do, this is also to set an example for our son that going to the synagogue on Shabbat is a very significant experience. Still, the Creator is not different depending on where I prayer — whether beside my bookshelf or in my synagogue. Some consistency is in order — consistency in how I present myself to Him as well as my mindset when approaching Him in prayer. 

Though I’m probably not going to start putting on my only suit to daven Shacharit (pray morning prayers) on a Tuesday, I should at least be my best self for that day when approaching Him. Though He doesn’t care what I wear when I approach Him, I, however, should.

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