Clothing is very important, as it covers the body and protects it from heat and cold. Adam and Eve originally had no need for clothing, but after they sinned they developed an awareness of their nakedness and thus clothing became necessary. As long as Adam and Eve were pure, the physical world did not exert too strong a pull on them, and they were able to appropriately emphasize the spiritual aspect of their existence. For them, the body served as a practical tool for revealing the essence of the soul. But after they sinned, the body was weakened and the evil inclination was strengthened. The “lower” functions of the body exerted a disproportionately strong pull, while the soul was neglected and man’s divine destiny was forgotten. This is the source of shame. A person’s dignity can be attributed primarily to his creation in God’s image. This dignity is revealed through his soul, and expresses itself via Torah study and the performance of mitzvot and good deeds. When one forgets his destiny and lets his physical desires control him, he loses this dignity. Clothes that cover us externally serve to modify our attraction to the physical world, and help repair the damage caused by the sin of Adam and Eve. Covering the body allows the soul to reach greater expression. We can then perfect the body and give it full expression, with holiness and joy, guiding it toward Torah and mitzvot. Therefore, a person’s clothing is his dignity.
Like every other good thing, clothing can be used correctly or incorrectly. Those who wear modest and pleasant clothes enjoy the true respect that results from emphasizing the spiritual. Those who wear immodest clothes emphasize the body and arouse the evil inclination. Instead of using clothes to emphasize the soul, they use them to further hide and conceal it. There is nothing more shameful than this.
The sin of Adam and Eve led to an additional change as well. Man was expelled from the Garden of Eden into this harsh world. The ability of the body to take care of itself was diminished. Thus clothing became necessary to protect the body from the cold during the winter and from the sun’s rays during the summer. In the wake of the sin the body was doubly damaged: It could no longer serve as the complete instrument of the soul without clothing, and it could not even protect itself from the elements.
Since clothing is a unique means of correction for man’s sin, clothes are not found in nature; rather, man must work and perform many activities in order to make them for himself. There are 13 melakhot involved in making cloth garments, and seven more in making leather garments.
As we have seen, the 39 melakhot are the same melakhot that were performed in building the Mishkan. The sources of the melakhot connected with clothing are the melakhot that were involved in making curtains for the Mishkan, which were meant both to honor and conceal the divine glory.