In ancient days, tearing your clothes was a common expression upon receiving news of a tragic event. The Old Testament contains several examples of ripping off garments, religious leaders tearing their cloaks or putting a sackcloth over heads after witnessing death, shock or shame. This unusual course of action is first recorded in Genesis 37:29, “when Reuben found out that his brothers had sold Joseph off as a slave, he was shocked, ripping his clothes apart in disgust.” This response serves as an act of disappointment to demonstrate how far souls have deviated from God.
While he was yet speaking, there came also another and said, Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, 19 And behold, there came a great [whirlwind] from the desert, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you. 20 Then Job arose and rent his robe and shaved his head and fell down upon the ground and worshiped 21 And said, Naked (without possessions) came I [into this world] from my mother’s womb, and naked (without possessions) shall I depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed (praised and magnified in worship) be the name of the Lord! – Job 1:18-21
Instead of having an emotional outburst, making a scene in public or ranting on social media, Job came to a painful reality upon receiving the news of his children’s deaths. Human beings came into this world naked and will leave in a similar manner, returning to the dust of the earth. Job 1:21 inspired the Catholic tradition known as Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. From dust man was created and to dust mankind will return. This is why Catholics receive ash on their foreheads once a year at masses across the country and throughout the world.
But he who is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured and who is consecrated to put on the [sacred] garments, shall not let the hair of his head hang loose or rend his clothes [in mourning], Leviticus 21:10.
According to Moses, the only member of the Jewish community who was not allowed to tear their clothes was the high priest. Everyone else was able to express their displeasure and frustrations of others in this manner. However, this doesn’t mean you should expose yourself in public like the woman in New Hampshire who voted topless after the political shirt she was wearing went against voting rules. My generation was taught if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t open your mouth. Thus, what I am suggesting is to replace daily tirades with the ancient practice of an inward and upward release of emotions.
by Jay Mankus