At the beginning of the Torah portion of Emor, The Torah outlines the physical requirements for a Kohen (priest) to serve in the Bait Hamikdash (Holy Temple) in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). A variety of physical blemishes and disabilities – although they do not remove his priestly status (which is inherited) – will disqualify him from performing the holy service. Seemingly, a servant of God is a spiritual responsibility and therefore the only thing that should disqualify a priest is some type of significant spiritual blemish. Why should it matter if a Kohen has one leg that is longer than the other or some other physical defect?
As is well known, FDR, the 32nd President was crippled from Polio. There are only 3 extant photographs of him in a wheel chair. The president correctly assumed that if people saw his disability they would question his ability to lead them. While there is absolutely no correlation between having full use of your lower body and effective leadership skills, FDR understood human nature and the tendency to perceive physical stature as indicative of one’s leadership (or other inner) capacities.
All human beings, regardless of their abilities, are created B’tzelm Elokim (In the image of God) and it is not the Torah’s intent to imply that a physically handicapped Kohen is somehow inferior to his brother. Yet the Torah, as a pragmatic guide to life recognizes what the people expect from a Kohen. As their representative in the Bait Hamikdash, the Kohen represents their highest spiritual strivings. Given the human tendency to view the physical as a reflection of the spiritual, the Torah has physical requirements necessary for a Kohen to serve in that capacity. Interestingly, a Kohen disqualified because of a blemish or physical handicap MAY partake of the offerings and perform other tasks that are entirely private.
If we apply this concept to one aspect of our outer appearance – our dress – we come to a powerful conclusion: Hashem loves us regardless of what we wear, yet as His representatives in this world, and a source of inspiration to others, we do our best to look the part.
When we focus on the nature of this responsibility, no longer is careful grooming and quality clothing a self serving pursuit, in fact, it can be divine.