Symbols rule the minds of men. This is not hyperbole. The human mind reduces reality to an array of symbols. It manipulates symbols. It comprehends only in terms of symbols. It communicates externally through symbols. It is no accident that every civilization that developed a system of writing also developed a tradition of magic based on its script. It is no accident that every civilization that developed mathematics also developed a tradition of numerology. Indeed, so tremendously important are symbols to the human mind that we recognize a disabling condition, autism, which boils down largely to the sufferer’s inability to translate reality into symbols.
Seeing that symbols have great power, it behooves us to ask which symbols have the greatest power. To this question the Holy Torah provides an answer. Our Sages tell us that the Jewish People enslaved in Mitsrayim descended to the 49-th level of impurity. They violated Shabbat, engaged in sexual perversion, ate the flesh of unclean creatures and worshipped idols. There was nothing, it seems, to separate them from their filthy Egyptian neighbors. Except for three things. The three most powerful symbols of identity.
Even sunk to the 49-th level of impurity, the Jews had kept their Hebrew names. They had kept their Hebrew tongue. And they had kept their Hebrew garb. Whatever they did, no matter what perversions and filthy rituals they indulged in, their identity remained distinct, separate, Hebrew. It remained defined by the three great symbols of personal identity – tongue, name, garb.
All that a man is, all that he ever was, all that he ever will be, indeed all that he ever CAN be is hemmed in and defined on the most basic level by these three things.
And of these three symbols, which is the most powerful? Here, history, observation and basic common sense combine to provide us with a definitive answer. A man’s name remains unknown unless he is introduced. A man’s tongue remains unheard while he is silent. But a man’s garb is constantly on display. It is the first form of communication encountered by all who see the wearer. It is, before a word is spoken, the unquestioned definer of first impressions. It is always on display. It is never silent. It blends in or stands out, welcomes or rejects, attracts or repels. It proclaims allegiance, wealth, marital status, occupation, even intentions. And it does so without any effort on the part of the wearer.
The clothes make the man. This is no mere adage. The soldier is defined by his uniform, the prelate by his cassock, the doctor by his white coat. Not only do others perceive them in accordance with their garb, but they themselves unconsciously act according to it. So powerful is garb as a symbol that men begin to act in accordance with their perception of the role defined by it simply as consequence of wearing it.
In fact, a 1960s university experiment to explore the power of this role-defining symbol had to be stopped after only a few weeks. Innocent university students dressed as prisoners began to act as prisoners, while their classmates dressed as guards began to act like prison guards. Even the professor, who was supposed to act as a neutral observer, began to act in accordance with his garb – as a prison warden! What is more, students who removed prisoner garb and put on guards’ uniforms began almost immediately to act as brutal guards, while “guards” dressed as prisoners began to act as dehumanized prisoners!
The great leaders of history understood the enormous power of garb.
A Swedish king named Gustav Adolph needed to defeat the greatest armies of Europe. His men needed to perform precise, identical movements in unison, loading their muskets with the greatest possible speed, then discharging them against the enemy again and again and again despite the chaos and terror of battle. So he dressed them in identical yellow and blue coats. Gustav Adolph became Gustavus Adolphus, Sweden became a Great Power and modern armies were born.
Tsar Pyotr Alexeyevich Romanov needed to drag medieval Muscovy kicking and screaming into the 18-th century. So he took off his Russian robes, shaved his beard and dressed like a Westerner. Then he forced his subjects to shave, banned the kaftan and introduced western clothing at gunpoint. Thus Tsar Pyotr Alexeyevich became Emperor Peter the Great and Muscovy became Imperial Russia.
But the most important case for our purposes is the curious case of a certain very famous British lawyer and his somewhat less famous disciple.
When British barrister M. K. Gandhi came to South Africa, he sought to achieve equality for his race within the British Empire. He sought this by legal means, within the courts. He encouraged loyalty to the crown and proudly served in the British Army. Though his strict Jain religion prevented him from bearing arms, he served with distinction. At Spion Kop, stretcher bearer M.K. Gandhi rushed again and again into a hail of Boer bullets and shell splinters in order to rescue wounded British soldiers. Were it not for British racism, he would have gotten the Victoria Cross.
When the young man despaired of achieving his people’s rights through British courts, he took off his British suit and put on the garb that was his right by birth – the robes and turban of an Indian aristocrat. M. K. Gandhi, Esq. became Mohandas Gandhi, the princely young Congress Party activist arguing for Indian autonomy in flawless King’s English.
And when Mohandas Gandhi despaired of autonomy, he resolved upon a struggle for independence. So he did the only thing a Jain aristocrat could do. He took off the princely robes of his birthright and wrapped himself in the simple cloak of the Hindu ascetic, the cloak of India’s most famous prince of all, Prince Siddhartha Gautama. Mohandas Gandhi became Mahatma Gandhi.
The British Empire was willing to imprison him for decades. It was willing to shoot his followers in droves and beat them to a pulp at every opportunity. But in the end it could not defeat him. For the British could fight a prince. But they could not fight a saint.
When Gandhi first adopted Indian garb, he was ridiculed. When a highly successful Indian barrister gave away his fine British-made clothing and dressed in Indian homespun like his friend Gandhi, the barrister’s wife, Mrs. Swaruprani Nehru, was mortified. When her son followed suit, Mrs. Nehru was appalled. It was one thing for her husband and son to talk crazy talk about independence. Men get silly ideas once in a while, get all crazy and run off at the mouth. Women just have to put up with it until the men calm down. Everyone knows this. It was all phase.
But when her menfolk took off their nice clothing and dressed like ragamuffin street vendors, why it was serious! What was a wife and mother to do? How would they make a living? They could be arrested, imprisoned, even shot in some demonstration! They could even get themselves hanged! All for the impossible, unattainable, unrealistic dream of overthrowing the British Raj! What clearheaded woman would not be appalled at such insanity?
History does not recall whether on 15 August 1947 Jawaharlal Nehru remembered his mother’s reaction all those many years before. But history does recall that on the day the first Prime Minister of the newly independent Republic of India took his oath of office, he was wearing the same ragamuffin street vendor homespun that had so appalled his mother.
None of these things should surprise us. We see the power of garb every day. When we see “Orthodox” Jewish parties such as Shas and UTJ acting like corrupt ghetto dwellers willing to sell their brothers down the river for a few million shekels and a wink and a nod from the powers that be, we need not look any further than the garb that shapes their identity.
Look at their 18-th century black suits and outmoded black hats! Look at the pseudo-Islamic turbans of $hade$ and his filthy ilk! These are the clothes of the ghetto! These are the symbols of the ghetto! Those who wear them will never leave the ghetto, for the ghetto rules their minds with its black hats and frock coats and rekelech and shtreimels and bekishes and turbans!
And why should we be surprised that secular Israeli politicians act like goyim and order pogroms? Look at those goyish suits and ties and high heels and power suits! Look at the jeans and miniskirts of their constituents!
Is THIS Jewish garb? Are THESE the symbols of Jewish identity? These are the clothes of goyim! These are the symbols of godless Western hedonism! Those who wear them will never abandon their Western perversions, for these perversions rule their minds with Armani suits and designer jeans and Gucci handbags!
Our heroic Hilltop Youth are wiser than their elders. They instinctively know the power of symbols. They instinctively know the power of garb. When you see giant kippot and unkempt beards and extra-long peyot, when you see tallit katan worn as overgarments, when you see bandannas folded and tied to look like head coverings from a biblical illustration, look beyond the surface. Our youth are groping toward our identity. They instinctively reject the garb of our shame, the penguin suit of the ghetto. They instinctively reject the garb of perversion and hedonistic filth, the clothing of the West. They grope toward our TRUE identity, the identity of a free Jewish People in its own sacred Land. They grope toward THIS:
My brothers and sisters, this clothing is not a Purim costume. This is not and must not be the domain of reenactors and actors, the costume of silly people who have nothing better to do on the weekends. This garb is our TRUE IDENTITY. It is simple to make. It is comfortable. It is suited to our climate.
Dye it OD green. Add a few extra pockets. Sew some camo netting onto the robe if you wish. Put on a pair of running shoes or better yet a pair of good combat boots. Don a boonie cap to keep the sun out of your eyes. You have an excellent battle dress uniform. Throw on some web gear, grab a rifle and you are in business, a Jewish warrior in a Jewish cause.
Until we take off the ghetto straightjacket of alien identity, until we put on the tunic and tallit and robe of our Jewish selves, we can never be free, for our minds will remain imprisoned. Our liberation must begin with the War of Symbols and our greatest symbol must be our appearance itself. We are not Israeli. We are not medieval ghetto dwellers. We are Am Ivri. Let us adopt Beged Ivri. Let us free our minds. Our bodies and our country will follow.
14 Shevat 5769