The Gemara (Shabbos 10a) cites putting on a belt as an example of an act performed in preparation for tefillah. Most men already wear belts today, and seemingly this practice has lost its significance. How does one fulfil this halachah today?
Some Rishonim suggest that putting on a special belt was only applicable in the times of Chazal when men wore long robes and not pants. Under such circumstances, the belt was a significant separation between the upper half and the lower half of a person’s body. Today when men wear pants there is no need to put on a belt (Tosfos, ibid.).
Based on this understanding, some Rishonim add that if a person is already wearing a belt he certainly does not need to put on another one. If, however, his belt is loose, he should fasten it for the sake of tefillah. This way, he will look dignified in his prayers.
The Shulchan Aruch implies that even if a person is already wearing a belt, he should put on another one for the sake of tefillah (Shulchan Aruch 91,2). Based on this, the custom amongst many chassidim is to wear a gartel, a special belt worn while praying. By putting on this special belt for tefillah, they perform a special act of preparing themselves to stand before the Almighty.
Gartels and Beyond
Someone once asked Rav Aharon of Belz what the difference was between a chassid and an Admor. After all, both of them are chassidim. The Rebbe just happened to be born into a family, the father of which had been a Rebbe.
The Rebbe answered, “Some people think that an Admor becomes a Rebbe just because his father held that position. Nothing could be farther from the truth. One cannot merit that position before investing supreme effort to elevate himself, until he reaches the highest levels of holiness.”
The Rebbe continued, “A chassid needs to wear a gartel in order to separate the lower, more animalistic half of his body from the higher, more spiritually elevated half. An Admor is someone who doesn’t need to wear a gartel to separate the two halves. He has already made his entire being holy in the process of becoming a Rebbe.”
Ties, jackets, hats, special kippas, gartels or whatever clothing one chooses to show honor to Hashem certainly can aid us in developing a more intimate relationship with Hashem. Whichever clothes we decide to wear, we must be careful not to make the common mistake of overemphasizing these garments. Clothing is only an accessory to tefillah, while the primary goal of prayer is dedicating our hearts to Hashem.
The clothing we wear during prayer shows our recognition of Hashem’s grandeur.
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org