"Rabbi Moss is the rudest rabbi I ever met!" That's how I felt yesterday. I saw you from a distance walking down aisle 3 in Coles Supermarket. I called out to you, but you didn't hear. I approached you, calling your name repeatedly, and I'm sure that you could hear me. But you totally ignored me. I finally caught up with you and slapped you on the shoulder, only to find out that ...it wasn't you at all. It was actually some other Hassidic Jew, wearing the same black velvet Kippa (skullcap) that you wear, the exact same dark wool jacket and pants and business shirt, the same reddish beard and rimless glasses. He looked so similar to you, even you would have been confused. I felt like such a fool.
Then I realized that this must happen to you all the time. All you Hassidic guys look the same! There must be some Hassidic clothing store that sells only one style. The same black hats, white shirts and black pants. It must be easy for you guys to get dressed in the morning. "What should I wear today -- the black jacket or the blue?" How boring! Where's the individuality? Where's the freedom of expression? Do you people have no originality at all?
My heart goes out especially for Hassidic young men who are expected to maintain the dark Hassidic dress code long after they graduate from high school. How frustrating this must be for an entire community of young spirits who are deprived of the freedom to express themselves the way they would like to and must instead dress as their fathers and grandfathers.
What surprises me more than anything however is that you, Rabbi Moss, an intelligent young man who had the good fortune of growing up in a normal Australian Jewish home, chose to embrace the Hassidic lifestyle and dress code. Wow! How you have changed from the days I knew you in high school. Why a liberated person would willingly subject himself to individual suppression is beyond me.
With warm regards,
Firstly, I must apologize for seeming to ignore you -- even though it wasn't me. I can imagine how offensive that must have been for someone with such impeccable manners as yourself.
I also wish to express my gratitude for your display of compassion and concern for Hassidic Jews, myself included. I thank you for your sensitivity and concern.
Obviously I can’t speak for others, only for myself. In my personal life I have found the opposite to be true. The Hassidic dress code actually helps me become more creative, original and individualistic. I will tell you why.
You see, being an individual means having something unique about yourself that no one else has. According to you, to be original you need a weird shirt, cool shoes and an unusual haircut. The more unusual your “look,” the more you stand out from the crowd and establish your identity as an individual. But let me ask you, is that really what makes you different from everyone else? Is that all you can do to be unique -- put on one outfit or another? Couldn't anyone do that? Is that what really defines your unique individualistic identity?
Walt Whitman in his poem O Me! O Life! cries out:
What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here -- that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
Are you going to tell me that the "verse" Whitman was referring to was ones dress style?
In the Jewish tradition, what makes an individual is not the clothing, but the character. When you are a part of a community of people that all dress the same, there is only one way to stand out: You have to be original, not your clothing. The people around you notice you for your character, the way you treat people, your manner of speech, the flavor of your soul, the hue of your heart, the depth of your sacrifices, the quality of your relationships, the candidness of your communication. You can't hide behind a superficial individuality based on hairstyle and fashion -- you have to be a real individual.
Max, I'm not telling you to go out and buy a black hat and jacket. Everybody ought to dress the way they like. But perhaps you should rethink how you look at yourself, and how you are projecting your image to the world around you. Is it possible that many of us are obsessed with dressing peculiarly only to compensate for the lack of a genuine sense of inner individuality and the absence of awareness of our unique place and mission in this world?
People who are truly comfortable with their individuality need not let their hair grow to their knees or tattoo themselves from head to toe, nor walk around half-naked, just to prove that they are different. Long hair, short hair, black pants, yellow pants, who cares? It is what's inside that makes a man. Max, do you still remember your excitement that day in 11th grade when you discovered William Blake?
To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.
This consciousness, Max, is not acquired through a particular style of dress. It stems from inner character.
Your friend, Aaron Moss